About 18 months ago, a well-dressed man entered a synagogue here posing as a reporter and said he was going upstairs to see administrators of a school that was renting part of the building. The receptionist, who had received security training, refused admission until she first announced him — despite his threat that she would lose her job.
He finally turned and left, stopping to peer into classroom windows as he walked away; the receptionist then called the police.
“He apparently concluded that this place was too tough a target,” said David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. “And that’s what you want — only authorized people getting into your building.”
That is the message Pollock conveyed this week to executive directors, rabbis and officials at more than 200 synagogues, Jewish museums, day schools, institutions and hospitals nationwide in advance of the High Holy Days.
To help them and other nonprofits increase their physical security, the federal Department of Homeland Security last month awarded $19 million in grants to groups across the country. Nearly 90 percent of the $5.1 million awarded in New York went to Jewish institutions to help them buy and install such items as blast-proof windows, reinforced doors, locks, gates, fences and video surveillance.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn) said that $966,148 would be going to vulnerable Jewish groups in his district to protect them against terrorist attacks.
“This funding will make it possible for more charitable institutions, houses of worship and the people they serve to get the proper equipment to secure themselves against potential terrorist attacks,” he said in a statement. “The threat against these organizations is still very real, and it is the obligation of government to protect potential targets from attacks by those who espouse hatred and violence.”
The maximum grant is $75,000, and Nadler said that among those receiving such grants in his district are the Barkai Foundation in Brooklyn, Maimonides Medical Center and the United Talmudic Academy of Boro Park.
The National Council of Young Israel announced Tuesday that 11 of its branches in the U.S. had been awarded a total of about $800,000 in grants to enhance security for their synagogues. Among them were three Young Israel synagogues on Long Island: Lawrence-Cedarhurst, West Hempstead and Woodmere. In addition, grants were awarded to the Young Israel of the West Side and to two in Queens: Jamaica Estates and Wavecrest & Bayswater in Far Rockaway.
Pollock pointed out that groups had to scramble to apply for this year’s grants because the late approval of the federal budget meant that they had less than three weeks to prepare the application.
“Many groups could not get it all done,” he said. “The JCRC had constantly alerted people [about the upcoming grant] and put out information on what we thought the requirements would be and how we thought groups should answer the questions.”
Pollock said the JCRC coached groups based upon prior years’ applications. The grant program, which started in 2005, has awarded a total of $118 million nationwide to help nonprofits buy and install equipment to deter and detect terrorists and extremists.
Short of “locking your doors and not letting anyone in,” Pollock said, synagogues and other Jewish institutions must provide security training to employees and install security equipment. On the High Holy Days, he said, members should take turns watching who enters and perhaps hire professional security personnel “who are trained to find things that don’t look right.”
For instance, he cited the case of two men who were arrested here in May after they bought weapons and a grenade in an alleged plot to carry out an attack against Manhattan synagogues. Pollock said they intended to dress up as chasidim, dress that might have been out of place in Manhattan synagogues.
He stressed that for immediate threats call 911. For suspicions about a possible threat, the phone number in the city for counterterrorism and intelligence officers is 1-888-NYC-Safe. Outside the city, the number is 1-866-Safe-NYS.
A website, jcrcny.org/securityresources, provides tips on how to detect someone who is conducting a hostile surveillance of a building.