In response to a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic incidents, both the federal and state governments are poised to allocate millions of dollars to improve security at nonprofit institutions. Now, in what is believed to be a first, UJA-Federation of New York has allocated money to help Jewish community centers win some of those competitive grants, The Jewish Week has learned.
“Institutions will need to identify the specific threats and vulner abilities [they face],” explained David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. “They will need a nationally recognized security professional to come in and do an assessment of their property — and UJA-Federation will now pay for it.”
He stressed that the money cannot be used to hire security guards and that there is “no guarantee” that Jewish nonprofits will be awarded any of the grants.
“There are JCCs that have already spent big money [improving security] and that still need to do more,” Pollock said.
Louisa Chafee, senior vice president for public policy and external relations at UJA-Federation, said her organization is already “working closely with our agencies to do the utmost” in preparing their security requests.
“We have security expert partners that advise our myriad of non-profits as to how to appropriately prepare themselves” for the competitive bids, she said.
“It’s a prerequisite for an applicant to have an analysis done [of their security needs],” Chafee said. “Part of the application includes a demonstration of their current security status.” She said the organization is initially focusing on helping JCCs and other institutions that provide child care services.
She declined to say how much money UJA-Federation has allocated for this project, but a source put the figure at $40,000. “It’s a first step,” he said. The security expert is in the process of visiting 15 community centers in the metropolitan area to carry out assessments. “This is the first time UJA-Federation has ever done anything like this,” the source said.
On the federal level, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to keep in the budget the $20 million in security grant money for non-profits that had been in last year’s budget. And 112 members of the House, including Rep. Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island), have signed a letter calling for that program to be increased to $50 million.
Of the $20 million in last year’s budget, more than $5 million went to 66 local Jewish groups. The maximum allowed for each grant is $75,000.
Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo inserted into the recently adopted state budget $25 million to help non-public schools increase security.
These actions came after a national increase in hate crimes, which by last November had already reached 314 — breaking the prior year’s total of 309. Through March 12 of this year, there was a 183 percent spike in hate crimes in New York City alone — including those against Jews — according to City Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the City Council’s Jewish Caucus.
The moves also come in the wake of a rash of bomb threats — more than 100 all told — phoned into more than 100 JCCs around the country beginning in January. The bomb threats led to evacuations of the institutions and created widespread anxiety in the Jewish community. A 19-year-old man with a history of mental illness was arrested last month on suspicion of placing the bulk of the calls using voice distortion software. That arrest came on the heels of the arrest of a St. Louis man in connection with eight bomb threats called in to Jewish institutions.
To help address all of this, Cuomo has announced the creation of a hate crimes task force that will use $1 million from the state budget to investigate and deter such incidents of bias and discrimination. The task force will include members from New York State Police and the New York State Division of Human Rights. In addition to investigating hate crimes, the task force will conduct community outreach to educate New Yorkers of their rights.
In addition, Gov. Cuomo has established an Interfaith Advisory Council chaired by Cardinal Timothy Dolan to help achieve a greater understanding and tolerance of all religions and cultures, promote open-mindedness and inclusivity, and bolster the state’s efforts to protect all New Yorkers.
Evan Bernstein, the New York regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said he welcomed the state’s efforts and noted that his organization would be ready to help in any way it can.
“We’d offer our services to be a resource to the governor’s office and the state police,” he said. “We’re on the phone regularly with the hate crimes task force of the New York Police Department. We also have a law enforcement advisory counsel that meets quarterly. And we do training about hate crimes. We recently trained the staff of the Mexican Consulate after they requested help in understanding hate crimes and how to handle them.”
Bernstein also applauded last week’s announcement by the State Department that a special envoy will again be appointed to monitor and combat anti-Semitism worldwide by advising other countries how to fight it. The post has been vacant since Donald Trump became president in January.
Such a position is vital, Bernstein said, because “anti-Semitism in Europe is the worst it has been since the end of World War II, and governments there are doing everything they can to protect the Jewish population. Having a monitor from the U.S. is critical because we are the leader of the free world.”
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) also welcomed the move, saying in a statement, “I hope the president will continue to demonstrate he takes the threat of anti-Semitism seriously and work to combat hatred and violence wherever it exists.”
All of these actions come as an Anti-Defamation League poll of Americans released earlier this month found, for the first time, that a majority of Americans (52 percent) are concerned about violence against American Jews.