Seven local Jewish schools and communal institutions have received federal grants to help them enhance their buildings’ physical security.
The seven Ben Porat Yosef Sephardic Yeshiva, Leonia; The Frisch School, Paramus; the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Tenafly; the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, River Edge; UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, River Edge; Yavneh Academy, Paramus; and the YJCC, Washington Township were among the ’51 Jewish groups awarded grants last week through the ‘007 Urban Areas Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant Program. In all, 308 grants were awarded, ‘3 in New Jersey.
Roger Shatzkin, spokesman for the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness in Trenton, told The Jewish Standard that New Jersey grants totaled roughly $1.8 million. Individual grants ranged from about $55,000 to the maximum amount of $100,000, received by 11 nonprofits.
Jersey barriers are among the options non-profits may choose to enhance their security.
Alan Sweifach, director of strategic planning and communications for UJA-NNJ who helped local award recipients write their grant proposals said that, to his knowledge, "there were no agencies, schools, or synagogues [in our area] that applied for funding and were turned down."
In the spring, Sweifach sent an e-mail to all federation agencies and day schools, offering help with the grant-writing process. Other than the seven schools and communal institutions noted above, he said, "I did not receive calls from any institution."
Sweifach noted that while he helped grantees complete their paperwork, "each local Jewish institution submitted its application separately." He explained that "bundling" the applications would not have made sense since the amount granted would have been capped at the same maximum amount, $100,000, available to individual organizations.
"I served as a resource," said Sweifach. "I had a contact in the Office of Homeland Security and I passed on updates and helped with language."
Miriam Allenson, UJA-NNJ assistant director of marketing and communications, said that Sweifach was the best person to help with this task since he "is the person most knowledgeable about grants and what the government looks for in the writing of these grants."
Sweifach said he believes that each of the larger grant recipients applied for the maximum award of $100,000, to be used for "target-hardening" projects such as installation of shatter-proof glass, security cameras, "Jersey barriers" (concrete structures generally used to separate lanes of traffic but which may also be used to keep cars away from perceived targets), and improved outdoor lighting.
He explained that applicants had to meet certain criteria to qualify for the federal monies. For example, he said, they needed to demonstrate proximity to identified "critical infrastructure," such as malls, banking centers, airports, bridges, and tunnels.
Also taken into account were the symbolic value of the sites, how they might be used by the community at large in efforts to recover from an attack, and threat assessments by local law-enforcement officials.
In this regard, Sweifach cited a report from the Washington office of United Jewish Communities holding that "the Jewish people and their communal institutions, by virtue of their identity, symbolic value, and vulnerability, are high-value targets of terrorists" a view clearly shared by the Department of Homeland Security.
UJA-NNJ Executive Director Howard Charish said the funds received by his agency will be used in the group’s new headquarters, which they hope to occupy within the coming year.
"The Jewish community is very grateful to Homeland Security for making grants to non-profits," he said, pointing out that "repercussions from the incident in Seattle" last year, in which a woman was killed and five people wounded in an attack on the federation buiding, "has caused us to redouble our efforts, making sure we do everything possible to plan for a secure facility."
Charish noted that his agency is planning to make its entrance more secure, with the intention of putting in a "holding room" similar to that at the Israeli embassy and UJC headquarters in New York.
Avi Lewinson, executive director of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, said that with the facility going through renovations, the grant comes at a "perfect time, allowing the facility to take advantage of the newest technology. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get help," he said, noting that specific enhancements will depend to a large extent on how much money is received.
Maintaining that "every Jewish organization should consider its security needs," Lewinson pointed out that "when something happens, the community reacts with enhanced security," but when things calm down, many security measures are discontinued. "Only a handful of JCC’s have kept the special security provisions implemented after 9/11," he said, noting that his agency has continued to employ an off-duty policeman as a security guard.
Lewinson said Jewish organizations must take security seriously, "not just for a short period but as a normal part of life."
He said he will use the anti-terrorism funds "to improve and enhance the security" of the JCC but declined to be more specific, noting that security experts, including the Tenafly police, have cautioned against speaking publicly about specific security measures.
"Avi Lewinson’s position is prudent," said Etzion Neuer, director of the New Jersey Region of the Anti-Defamation League. "Jewish organizations should be circumspect about publicly revealing vulnerabilities, and in what they share with the general public."
Neuer pointed out that "not all groups supported the idea of funding religious institutions" when legislation authorizing the grants for nonprofits was passed in ‘005. One of those groups was the ADL.
"We don’t support government grants to nonprofits for both constitutional and policy reasons," he said. "Since there are more institutions needing funds than there are funds available, we believed it would cause intercommunal competition," he noted, pointing out that vying for funds also causes "politicization of the grant-making process."
Constitutionally, he said, the group felt it was inconsistent to support this kind of funding when it had opposed the president’s prior faith-based initiatives.
Neuer said he hopes and trusts that now that the money has been awarded, agencies that receive federal funds will implement appropriate safeguards to ensure that the funds are spent solely for anti-terrorism measures, as required by the DHS.
"Money is helpful, but it is not a panacea," he said. "It’s tempting to view security as an issue that one can just throw money at but building a high wall or installing high-tech equipment is only one part of the equation."
He said ADL recommends "a whole process that considers many facets of an adequate security plan": a comprehensive security survey, building a strong relationship with local law enforcement agencies, creating a security- conscious climate, creating staff-leadership consensus on security issues, and taking account of human factors by training staff and ensuring that they maintain their skills.
"The ADL would be happy to work with award recipients to help them establish secure institutions," he said.