Jewish facilities bolstered in terror fight
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Jewish facilities bolstered in terror fight

Department of Homeland Security allocates funds to 60 area nonprofits

Jason Shames, left, and Josh Pruzansky
Jason Shames, left, and Josh Pruzansky

Federal security grants provide money for security enhancement to nonprofit organizations and facilities that are at risk of terrorist threats or defacement. A total of $20 million has been allocated and will be spent on enhancements, including security equipment, new doors, shatter-resistant windows, physical access control systems, fencing, gates, improved lighting and alarm systems, and a CCTV (closed-circuit TV) system.

This year, nearly 60 facilities in northern New Jersey will receive up to $75,000 each in funding from the Department of Homeland Security. These grants will help enhance security initiatives. “I hope that the increase of recipients will continue,” said Josh Pruzansky, the Orthodox Union’s New Jersey regional director. “We are very pleased with the amount of funding and the impact it has had. Kudos to the Department of Homeland Security for doing this.”

The funding is seen as even more necessary than it has been in other years, given the recent attacks in Orlando, San Bernardino, and South Carolina, among many others. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston in June 2015, in which nine people were killed and a tenth wounded by a young white supremacist, gave all houses of worship and religious-affiliated organizations a heightened sense of vulnerability.

The Department of Homeland Security posted a bulletin on its National Terrorism Advisory System page on June 15 in which it repeated its December 2015 assessment of the global threat environment, but emphasized the increased concern over homegrown violent extremists and the need for increased public vigilance and awareness.

While attack targets seem to have been varied, Jewish institutions traditionally are at high risk. Highlighting this is a recent incident that received media attention in southern Florida. This spring, FBI agents foiled a terrorist attack on the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center during Passover services. The accused, James Medina, cited Allah and ISIS as his motivation. In addition to general terrorist risks associated with ISIS threats, the Jewish community in New Jersey has faced an increased number of anti-Semitic bias attacks recently. The Anti-Defamation League reports on its website that violent and nonviolent anti-Semitic incidents are sharply on the rise.

In the past, local synagogues have faced attacks and incidents of vandalism. In the winter of 2011, Temple Beth El in Hackensack was sprayed with anti-Semitic graffiti. Additionally, Congregation Beth El in Rutherford was firebombed in January 2012. This March, Anthony Graziano, the man who firebombed the Rutherford synagogue, was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The federal grants were created to prevent such attacks. Debbie Gottlieb negotiates group discounts and better pricing for Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. When the applications for the grants came out this spring, she, a representative from Bergen County’s security service, and a representative from the county’s prosecutor’s office met with synagogue and religious and day school administrators at the federation’s offices to help them fill out the forms. About a dozen local synagogues applied for the grants, and seven received one.

The grants were to be used only for “target hardening”— physical barriers that keep terrorists and their weapons, including their cars, from entering buildings easily.

“We had information and we shared it,” the federation’s CEO, Jason Shames, said. “Our goal is to offer expertise to help institutions get the training, guidance and security that they need and to lessen the vulnerability that the Jewish community is subject to.”

“It is important to know that the federation is a connector. We have the knowledge to connect people in the right way,” Miriam Allenson, the federation’s communications director, added.

Local Jewish institutions that received the grants include the Chabad Center of Passaic County in Wayne, Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, the East Hill Synagogue in Englewood, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey in Paramus, Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn, Shomrei Torah in Wayne, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn, Temple Emeth in Teaneck, and Yeshivat He’Atid in Bergenfield, among others.

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