Saturday, July 02, 2022

With the Jewish community finding its safety and security at its most vulnerable point in years, Jewish communal leaders joined with government officials in imploring Congress to double the amount of money earmarked for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP).

At a February 23 press conference called by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 9) and held at the Jewish Family Service and Children’s Center of Clifton-Passaic, he outlined frightening statistics about attacks on the Jewish community in calling on his colleagues to raise the appropriation to $360 million.

“The rising tide of antisemitic extremism is titanic,” he declared while being flanked by a circle of leaders representing such organizations as the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish Federations of New Jersey and the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Noting that this tide of anti-Jewish hatred has been ongoing for several years, he and Rep. John Katko (R-NY-24) led 174 bipartisan members of Congress in requesting the hike.Among the projects the grant program funds are security initiatives for houses of worship, many of them Jewish.

“Everybody wants to support and protect the Jewish organizations in the United States at least outwardly, even though they might not believe it in their hearts,” said Pascrell, who added that events such as the Charlottesville march where white supremacists with torches shouted, “Jews will not replace us,” are terrifying because they destroy the idea of an America where “nobody is better than anyone else.”

Pascrell said much of the danger comes from right-wing extremists who “you don’t have to go to Idaho to find. They carry the American flag … but some of us are hated by them.”

He went on to cite incidents such as the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead, which he labeled “disgusting”; the 2012 firebombing of a synagogue in Rutherford as the rabbi and his family slept in the residence upstairs; and the attack at a Jersey City kosher supermarket two years ago that left six people dead. Pascrell noted one out of four American Jews reported being the victim of antisemitism last year.

“It is vital that all religious institutions have the means to protect themselves,” said Pascrell.

With antisemitic incidents at historic highs in New Jersey and throughout the nation and with New Jersey ranking second in the nation in such incidents, he noted there are 82 grant recipients in the state.

“If the money is spent in a realistic way, you will be safe,” said Pascrell.

New Jersey has been at that unenviable No. 2 spot consistently for the last five years, said ADL Associate Regional Director for New York/New Jersey Alana Burman. New York leads the nation in incidents.

Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36) acknowledged that the Jewish community was well aware of the hate and violence directed at it, adding that while “we all pray it will be extinguished, it probably won’t.” What is needed is to protect Jewish people and institutions both spiritually and physically.

Moreover, Schaer noted the additional grant funding would not only protect synagogues and Jewish day schools, but also the institutions of the Muslim, Christian and minority communities.

“No one should be afraid to pray in their place of worship,” said New Jersey AJC Executive Director Rabbi David Levy, who formerly served as religious leader at two synagogues that were recipients of the security grants before assuming his current position. “I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to congregants to know their doors are safe, their buildings are safe as they gather together to offer praise to God.”

Naomi Knopf, chief of staff at the Northern New Jersey federation, also stressed the need for making the community safer by enhancing security through grants so that neither children going to day school nor adults entering a Jewish institution would feel they are a target.

Joshua Cohen, director of government relations and external affairs for the Jewish Federations of New Jersey, called the additional grant money an “incredible” opportunity to improve security for the Jewish community and said Federation is “deeply grateful” to Pascrell for his lead in attempting to secure increased funding. “The staggering increase in hate toward the Jewish community demands a response to protect it,” he said.

Alexander Herzog, executive director of the Clifton-Passaic center, ended the conference on an upbeat observation, noting while there is evil in the world, “There is God. There is light. It is very reassuring to know the Jewish community has friends.”

By Debra Rubin


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