WASHINGTON (JTA) – Jewish institutions will receive the majority of U.S. federal funds designated this year to help secure non-profit organizations.
Of the 308 grants awarded through the Urban Areas Security Initiative Non-Profit Security Grant Program, 251 are being allocated to Jewish groups, totaling $19.6 million.
The $24 million in total grants announced by the Department of Homeland Security last week vary in amounts, with $100,000 the maximum. The funds are used to provide everything from roadblocks to security cameras to blast-proof doors and windows at locations that could be terrorist targets.
The grants were announced a few days after representatives of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives toured the Jewish community’s national security alert organization in Manhattan.
A presidential order created the center in March 2006 in response to the lack of coordination between the Federal Emergency Planning Agency and faith and community-based groups that volunteered on the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Center director John Kim Cook, who took over six weeks ago, is meeting with community organizations across the country to understand how his agency can best help them take care of their own.
“Our objective is to get right in the middle of [Department of Homeland Security] policy to really work with the programs of DHS to make sure there’s not discrimination, and secondly to provide outreach to faith-based community organizations,” Cook told JTA. “We want to foster an environment that welcomes participation of these organizations. With our preparedness programs, if we touch congregations throughout the land, we would touch the majority of the people in the U.S.”
Cook’s deputy, Greg DiNapoli, joined him Sept. 25 in touring the Secure Community Network facility. Representatives from the DHS bomb prevention squad and members of the New York Police Department were on hand as well to meet with the SCN advisory board, which is comprised of representatives from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, United Jewish Communities, the New York Board of Rabbis and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
SCN director Paul Goldenberg said he believes the potential for future attacks against Jews in America cannot be underrated.
“Anywhere where Jews gather is a potential target,” he told JTA. “I think synagogues are particularly susceptible because they’re considered soft targets, but my concern is the lone wolf, the most difficult to investigate. The only real mitigation we have is to make the community aware of these types of individuals and train them about what to look out for.”
The research bears out Goldenberg’s concerns.
“DHS conducted a two-phase assessment based on investment justifications and state, local and national law enforcement review,” United Jewish Communities, the umbrella body for Jewish federations, said in a news release. “The result underscores a troubling fact: The Jewish community is at risk in a way and at a level not shared by other groups.”
After one woman was killed and five were wounded in an attack on the Jewish federation building in Seattle last year, UJC stepped up its involvement this year to ensure that the SCN program was funded and that Jewish organizations were informed how to apply for grants.
That work apparently paid off. The grant program was funded with $25 million in 2005, but had not been funded in 2006. Beyond the $24 million approved for this year, he Senate is now considering approval of $20 million in grants for 2008.
“Since Sept. 11, non-profits and Jewish institutions have been the victims of an alarming number of threats and attacks,” said William Daroff, UJC’s vice president of public policy and the group’s Washington director, who played a major role in securing the funding.
“We just marked the one-year anniversary of the attack in Seattle. One federation staff member was killed in that attack. We hope this recognition will help make it so that attacks like this do not occur in the future.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle received the maximum grant of $100,000 for this year, but had applied with the purpose of helping other groups in Seattle, including the Seattle Hebrew Academy and the Seattle Community School, to install security cameras and doors that can withstand heavy impact.
“Since the shooting we have definitely upgraded the facility, but it’s something we’re constantly working on, we’re constantly upgrading,” said Zack Carstensen, director of government affairs at the Seattle federation. “Security is one of the top priorities here. You’ll find that throughout the Jewish community in Seattle.”
Many of the grants were awarded to organizations in the New York area. Another large concentration was in Maryland, where $900,000 will go to 19 Jewish organizations, including individual congregations and institutions such as the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Maimonides Academy of Baltimore.
Goldenberg said that despite the high level of security concerns at Jewish institutions, it is important not to “get to the point where we’re building walls around our synagogues and around our federations.”
“We have to do everything that we can to harden our locations and to make them much less appealing to people who want to do harm to our communities,” he said, “but Secure Community Network is not out there to say the sky is falling.”
Cook said he was impressed by the communication and coordination within the community that makes SCN an effective organization, and he pledged to work with SCN to offer disaster response training to the Jewish community.
“It is comprehensive training that teaches citizens how to respond to an act of terrorism, first aid, how to stay alive during a catastrophic event and help others,” Goldenberg said. “We’re formally and officially working at the highest levels to promote that training. It can save lives.”