During a High Holy Day security briefing held on Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Members of Congress from across the aisle and both chambers vowed to advocate for increased funding for the vital Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), whose current funding level of $305 million is meeting the needs of fewer than half of all applications.
The briefing was organized by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) together with SCN (Secure Community Network), ADL (Anti-Defamation League), and the OU (Orthodox Union), with the support of six other major Jewish organizations.
JFNA president and CEO Eric Fingerhut opened the briefing with a call for “full funding of the [NSGP] program at the $360 million level.” While Jewish Federations spend millions of dollars a year on communal security, Fingerhut noted that in the face of unprecedented spikes in antisemitism, the public-private partnership with the government requires additional public resources.
He said: “It is truly indispensable to the physical security of churches, synagogues, mosques, and all other faith-based places of gathering across the country. There’s not a security camera or security door that isn’t in some way costly and needing the help and support of these resources.”
US Senators' statements
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) disagreed with the Senate’s proposed cut of the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill he oversees as subcommittee chair, including the NSGP cut.
“My mission and our mission are to make sure that when we reconcile the Senate bill with the House bill, that we deliver another big meaningful increase in the Nonprofit Security Grant Program,” he said.
Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) added, “Since coming to Congress, I have repeatedly advocated for increased funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program because it has become even more critical than ever for our safety.” Manning, a former chair of JFNA, who helped advocate for the program’s creation, explained: “That’s why I joined 135 of my house colleagues to call for an increase to $360 million of funding in fiscal year 2024.”
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said that “The most basic principle is ‘What are we doing to be able to push back on antisemitism?’ That’s our first priority in this.” Lankford called for broader adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism in the government. “The last thing that we want to have is for antisemitism to be a partisan conversation.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) spoke about anti-Israel bias, emphasizing the importance of education in combating hateful rhetoric. “The bias is so thick, you can cut it with a knife, and we’re doing what we can to fight it,” he said.
Brandy Flack of Margolin Hebrew Academy shared details of the harrowing experience she underwent last month when a shooter opened fire outside her school. She credited the school’s security installments with saving lives.
She told of a man who “came to our school in Memphis poised on committing a mass shooting and thankfully he failed. He failed because he was unable to enter our buildings. Only a few weeks earlier, our doors had been replaced and hardened with deliberate access control. The Federal nonprofit security grant program funded this life-saving security upgrade.”
Flack added that the protocols they had practiced helped keep them safe and that their security cameras helped law enforcement to identify, locate, and subdue the assailant before he could move on to his next targets.
SCN national director and CEO Michael Masters added that “the Jewish community remains the number one target of religiously motivated hate crimes in the US. Our network of security professionals have been planning, preparing, and training in advance of this special, holiest of times.
“SCN has trained over 7,700 people for the High Holy Days in the last several weeks alone. We have made much progress, but there is much more work to do. Every religious facility in America must be protected, every member of a faith-based community must be trained, we need to expand NSGP and similar efforts, and our efforts must be professional, specific, and ongoing,” he added.
Executive Director for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center Nathan Diament said that “We have it in our hands to first take measures to ensure the security and safety of our communities. And we have it in our hands to act to combat and reduce hate and create a new year of health and happiness for all. We at the Orthodox Union are grateful to our allies in Congress and partners in the Jewish community with whom we strive to achieve this goal.”
According to a statement on behalf of JFNA, communal security is a core Jewish Federation priority. In addition to advocating for an increase in the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, Jewish Federations continue to raise funds towards LiveSecure, their $130 million security initiative that was launched in 2021.
Today, 103 Jewish communities have professionally led security programs, up from just a handful in 2019.