Chabad houses, yeshivas, organizational headquarters and even a mikveh in the New York area are among the beneficiaries of $9.7 million in funds allocated by the Department of Homeland Security for Jewish organizations and facilities considered vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
That sum is 97 percent of the $10 million budgeted in the nonprofit Security Grant Program, one of several programs intended to improve so-called soft targets. The funds are a substantial reduction from last year’s $19 million for the program.
The government also allocated $294 million for states to use within their borders, $6 million for Native American communities, to help tribal authorities provide security in border areas; $490.4 million for security in urban areas and $46 million for its Operation Stonegarden, to enhance border security.
Another $339.5 million was allocated to states and U.S. territories to increase emergency management performance.
Almost a third of the funds for nonprofit security enhancement, $3.1 million, will go to institutions in New York state, while the next largest sum, $1.6 million will go to California institutions and $1.5 million to Illinois institutions.
The annual funding totals $1.3 billion, down sharply from last year’s total of $2.1 billion.
In New York, the Jewish Community Relations Council trains organizations in applying for the funding and making the case that they are under threat of a terror attack, such as those directed against a Los Angeles Jewish community center in 1999 (wounding five) and the Seattle Jewish federation in 2006, where one person was killed. In 2009, four men were charged with hatching a bomb plot against synagogues in Riverdale while under the scrutiny of the police and FBI.
Deadlier attacks have taken place overseas, where a Chabad center in Mumbai was stormed (killing nine) in 2008, a community center in Buenos Aires was blown up in 1994 (killing 87) and a Jewish school in France was attacked this year by a gunman, killing four.
This round of funding, which was announced on June 29, was the program’s seventh allocation since its creation in 2005. The program has distributed a total of $128 million during that time, according to the Jewish Federations of North America.
“We are grateful that the Nonprofit Security Grant Program has emerged to supplement the work of local and federal law enforcement to help keep us safe,” said William Daroff, JFNA’s vice president for public policy, in a statement.
The statement noted that a key figure in the 2008 Mumbai attack was recently deported from Saudi Arabia to stand trial in India, while a number of Americans were convicted of running websites inciting anti-Jewish violence.
While overall funding was lower, David Pollock, associate executive director of the JCRC and its point man on security issues, said he was glad New York is still the largest recipient with 43 grantees.
“We are gratified that New York got a larger share of the national pie, which reflects the fact that there is an ongoing threat against Jewish institutions here,” said Pollock.
Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, a project of the JFNA, which works closely with the Department of Homeland Security and recently received a separate $1 million grant to promote awareness of suspicious behavior, said the agency, headed by Secretary Janet Napolitano, “made a very aggressive pitch to ensure that these monies stayed in place for faith-based and nonprofit organizations. Unfortunately these monies were impacted by the [the economic downturn], but I know DHS and the secretary’s office worked very closely with Congress to ensure this program remains stable.”
Asked to assess the present threat level against Jewish institutions and others, Goldenberg said, “We are in very challenging times and it’s extremely important that we remain as vigilant as we have been, if not more so. The Mideast is unsteady and we are seeing a rise in extremists abroad during these economic times. As long as we have these elements as part of our recipe, we have to remain vigilant. It was only three months ago that Jewish children were gunned down in a school yard [in Toulousse, France].”
Goldenberg said synagogues are likely the most vulnerable Jewish targets because they are so recognizable and open to the public, but the most vulnerable target is “one that has done nothing or little about its own security.”
He stressed the importance, however, of not discouraging people from using communal facilities out of fear.
“We have to remain vigilant and build a culture of security within our community, however we have to make sure the Jewish community will remain open for business,” said Goldenberg. “We will not find ourselves behind concertina wire or with walls around our institutions.”
He noted that enhanced security measures serve not only to ward off attacks but to discourage thieves who might target property, such as Torah scrolls or other valuable items.
In Flatbush, Brooklyn, a number of Orthodox shuls recently reported a rash of thefts of silver ornaments that adorn prayer shawls.