Calls for more security funding intensify among faith leaders after Texas synagogue hostage-taking

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Temple Sinai in Atlanta sent out an email this week inviting worshipers to return to in-person Shabbat services – they had been virtual for weeks because of COVID-19[feminine.

Mais les dirigeants avaient un problème plus urgent à résoudre, quelques jours seulement après que quatre fidèles juifs ont été pris en otage à la synagogue Congregation Beth Israel à l’extérieur de Dallas-Fort Worth.

“Nous reconnaissons que les tendances actuelles concernant le COVID-19 ne sont qu’une des sources d’inquiétude dans l’esprit des gens à l’heure actuelle”, indique le courriel.

L’e-mail rappelait aux familles “les systèmes de sécurité sur place, la présence de personnel de sécurité formé chaque fois que le bâtiment est ouvert, des relations solides avec les forces de l’ordre locales, la formation continue du personnel concernant la connaissance de la situation et les réponses appropriées [and] enhanced cybersecurity training.

These security measures were installed in 2018 with a $133,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

Funds from the same DHS grant — known as the Nonprofit Security Grant, or “NPSG” — were allocated in 2020 to the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue, and security systems were credited with helping the hostages there get out safely.

“Security cameras helped the FBI when they needed it,” Rabbi Cytron-Walker said.

Matthew DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Dallas, described the video coverage of the hostage situation as “decent” – “enough to give decision makers, negotiators and others a general awareness of the situation” .

Today, in the days following the hostages’ escape, faith community leaders reiterated calls to double funding for the security grant program from $180 million to $360 million.

It’s a push backed by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“We’ve heard many, many different confessions from many parts of the community about the need for increased funding,” Mayorkas said Thursday.

Among Jewish community leaders, funding increases for the grant program remained the No. 1 request this week, he said.

“The secretary has come out strongly in favor of increasing this funding, and I know the administration is having conversations,” a senior FEMA official said.

Nonprofit organizations, including places of worship, can apply for the Security Grants, which are overseen by the Department of Homeland Security and issued by FEMA. Last year, 3,361 grant applications were submitted, representing nearly $400 million in funding requests. Of those, 1,532 applications have been approved, according to FEMA.

They can be used to buy security systems, fences, gates and cameras, and invest in cybersecurity or training programs for worshippers. In recent years, the federal government has expanded the parameters to allow the hiring of third-party security or off-duty police at 501(c)3 organizations, including places of worship.

Established in 2016 at $25 million, funding for the program has grown over the years, from $90 million in 2020 to $180 million last year.

“Last year, even when there were $180 million in grants, which we by the way helped direct, we found that the requests were much, much higher,” said Nathan Diament, executive director. of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the public policy arm of the largest Orthodox Jewish organization in the country, representing nearly 1,000 congregations. “There just aren’t enough funds to meet all the demands.”

Although federal law enforcement has not uncovered any specific or credible threat related to Saturday’s hostage taking, a joint intelligence bulletin issued to local law enforcement on Tuesday said “the FBI, DHS, and NCTC also remain concerned about the potential for copycat attacks,” further prompted by a “high volume of violent extremist postings online” ratifying the shooter’s actions.

Over the past year, the Biden administration has issued about 80 bulletins and alerts to local law enforcement detailing potential threats nationwide.

Joshua Davidson, chief rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El of New York, which has a 2,500-seat amphitheater, said he has long been concerned about small congregations across the country “who cannot afford the security apparatus…which provides the security of their worshipers have a right to expect.”

In 2021, more than a quarter of application-based grants went to New York and New Jersey, although California ($20.5 million), Florida ($9.8 million) and the Texas ($6.4 million) also received significant sums. States like Nevada, Montana and Hawaii received less than $350,000 each, according to FEMA.

This week, more than 1,700 people wrote to their legislators in support of the NPSG, using a link on the ADL website. And a group of senators are urging appropriations committee leaders to expand funding for the NPSG.

“We respectfully encourage you to appropriately fund the NSGP in fiscal year 2022,” reads a bipartisan letter signed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Gary Peters of Michigan, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Rob Portman of Ohio and James Lankford of Oklahoma.

“Congress should do all it can to protect at-risk and vulnerable nonprofits from growing extremist and hate-motivated threats.”

The post offered no price tag, but people close to the process weighed cautiously, noting that the Senate and House appropriations bills had already agreed to $180 million.

“Based on the typical rules used to conference on these bills, you wouldn’t be able to increase funding,” a congressional aide not officially authorized to speak told CBS News. “But the leadership ends up making the call.”

A spokesman for Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy said “negotiations on a final omnibus appropriations agreement are still ongoing.”

Mayorkas told CBS News on Thursday that $100 million has already been earmarked for the grant program — referring to a figure written in President Biden. $1.7 trillion spending to build back better. The package, however, stalled in the Senate, and Democrats could start from scratch with negotiations on a broader program.

Amid a partisan stalemate, the tragedy turned victims and heroes into advocates for change. In media interviews and at an FBI press conference, Rabbi Cytron-Walker recounted the hostages’ escape to the Texas standoff and offered advice to the anxious religious communities who watched in horror. as he stood captive within his congregation.

“We are going to have to overcome this feeling of fear,” he said on Thursday.

But his messages of perseverance predate his contact with death. Back in December he acknowledged a growing wave of anti-Semitism.

“We know some people just don’t like us,” he told congregants.

“When we have real problems to solve – there’s a lot of negativity,” he said, later adding, “And the fact that the amount of infighting exceeds the amount of problem solving – that doesn’t not help. With so much negativity, we have to do better.”

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