Jewish Sites Become Eligible for Funds to Upgrade Security
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Jewish Sites Become Eligible for Funds to Upgrade Security

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Jewish institutions are finding new ways to get federal money to secure sites that could be targets for terrorist attacks. While legislation to create a fund specifically for the protection of high-risk non-profit institutions lingers in Congress, Jewish communities are working with states and local governments to obtain funds earmarked by the Department of Homeland Security for security upgrades.

Already, Maryland has allocated more than $200,000 for the protection of Jewish sites in the state. It is also the home of a pilot program to provide federal money for security upgrades to synagogues.

Recent events have shown that Jewish sites are high-risk targets for terrorist attacks, both in the United States and abroad. And as the federal government allocates money to prevent such attacks, Jewish institutions are hoping to win some grants to defray the staggering cost of protecting Jewish institutions.

The Department of Homela! nd Security determined last month that non-profit institutions are eligible for part of the $2 billion in grants from the department’s Office of Domestic Preparedness. The money is given to states and municipalities for distribution for security measures, both for law enforcement and for the protection of public and private facilities.

That ruling came as some states were already preparing to give money to Jewish sites, and serves as a clarification, officials said. To avoid crossing the line separating church and state, money is distributed to intermediaries, who monitor the security upgrades and reimburse the sites after the work is completed.

For example, the Baltimore Jewish Council, a local community relations council, is overseeing security improvements to two Jewish community centers in its region.

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich has earmarked $97,900 for the project. The community centers worked with law enforcement and emergency management officials to deter! mine what security upgrades were needed.

“After 9/11, the governmen t must act proactively and in partnership with communities to ensure all our citizens’ safety,” Ehrlich said.

Invoices will be submitted to the Baltimore council as work is completed, and they will be sent to the government for reimbursement.

The funds are used for security upgrades such as bulletproof glass, access cards for secure areas, security cameras, alarm systems and concrete planters to protect against explosives-laden cars driving into the facilities.

Baltimore Jewish officials say securing Jewish sites is a good investment for the government.

“Certainly, it’s the government’s obligation to provide for the security of its citizens,” said David Conn, director of government relations and public policy for the Baltimore Jewish Council. “What this money is doing is lowering the burden on the government to secure these facilities.”

Conn said secure Jewish facilities will mean less of a risk for the general community and therefore will require less law enf! orcement services.

The community has become keenly aware of the possibility of Jewish sites being targeted since last October, when a Saudi national was caught videotaping the campus of a girls yeshiva in a Baltimore suburb.

The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of federations, will work with federations and other Jewish institutions across the country, educating them on how to seek funds from their states and municipalities.

Charles Konigsberg, UJC’s vice president for public policy, said he believed there was great potential for Jewish sites around the country to garner Homeland Security dollars.

David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said his group, in conjunction with the UJA-Federation of New York, is in consultation with the state about homeland security dollars.

But he also said he is concerned about competing for funds from the same pot directly with the New York City Polic! e Department, which he said is doing good work in protecting Jewish si tes.

In Maryland, the governor has expressed interest in helping to secure houses of worship with the money as well.

Through grants, Ehrlich has earmarked an additional $30,000 to the Baltimore Jewish Council to help secure a synagogue, whose name is not yet public.

These funds mark the first time a house of worship is receiving federal funds for security.

But elsewhere in the region, there is some reluctance to use the money directly for synagogues.

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, which includes some Maryland suburbs, said that while his group has no problem securing a Maryland day school with $98,000 allocated from the state, they are not yet willing to take money to secure local synagogues.

“We want to make sure that if we accept the money, it does not assist in the erosion of the wall between church and state,” Halber said. “The concern occurs once you make the leap” from a non-religious but religiou! sly affiliated organization to a house of worship, he said.

The Washington council will investigate the implications of taking the money for synagogues in the next few weeks.

“Just because money is there, doesn’t mean you always take it,” Halber said. “Sometimes, there are other issues at stake.”

While Jewish organizations pursue the money to upgrade security, lobbyists are continuing to push for a separate pool of money that Congress is considering that would allocate funds specifically for the security of high-risk non-profit institutions.

That legislation, which would authorize $100 million for non-profits, has broad support in Congress, the UJC’s Konigsberg said.

It has been included as part of the Homeland Security appropriations bill, which currently is being held up in Congress. It is not clear if and when it will come to a vote.

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