Local Jewish organizations receive state grants to enhance security
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SecurityMore than $700,000 will go to training, new equipment

Local Jewish organizations receive state grants to enhance security

After the massacre at the Tree of Life building, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh lobbied for funds to ensure safety of non-profits

The Tree of Life building days after the attack. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)
The Tree of Life building days after the attack. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

Fifteen Jewish organizations in Southwestern Pennsylvania will be amping up their facilities’ security, thanks to approximately $722,000 in grant funding they received on March 11 from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

The funding came from the first-ever cycle of the Pennsylvania Nonprofit Security Grant Program, signed into law by Gov. Wolf in Nov. 2019, and which supports security upgrades for facilities “used by nonprofit entities deemed at risk for hate crimes,” according to a press release issued by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s Federation, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, led lobbying efforts to pass the legislation.

There were 807 applications for this round of grants, with requests totaling about $27 million. All of the funds available — $5 million — were disbursed to 113 applicants throughout the commonwealth and included many religious and educational entities.

“We are so grateful that the legislature recognized the need in the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community,” said Bob Silverman, chair of the Pittsburgh Federation’s Community Relations Council in a prepared statement. “The fact that our community received nearly 15% of all available funds demonstrates that our elected officials have recognized and acted upon the threat to our community after the horrific violent attack on the Tree of Life synagogue building a year and a half ago.”

The grant funds can be used for safety and security planning, purchasing safety equipment or technology, training and threat assessments, and other safety-related projects.

Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, which received $90,000 in grant funds, had already made “significant security upgrades” to its facility 20 years ago following an attack by a gunman who shot bullets into the building after murdering his next-door neighbor and Beth El member, Anita Gordon, in her home, according to the congregation’s president, Warren Sufrin.

“However, we recognized after the horrific events in Squirrel Hill, much more was required,” Sufrin said. “Among other things, we’ll be improving surveillance, improving internal communications and hardening the exterior of the facility.”

Community Day School, which received $74,584 in grant funds, will use the money for “perimeter security and the BluePoint Rapid Emergency Response System,” said Jennifer Bails, director of marketing and communication for CDS. “The BluePoint alert system is an emergency response and notification system that Federation is putting into schools, early learning centers, and some other Jewish organizations. The system will provide notifications regarding an active shooter or any other type of emergency to BluePoint users within the Pittsburgh Jewish community.”

The nearly $120,000 grant to Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh will be used “for increased target hardening and emergency response systems,” according to Rabbi Chezky Rosenfeld, director of development for Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh.

“The abundance of applications for the non-profit security grants demonstrates the compelling need for churches, synagogues and other non-profit facilities to safeguard their communities,” noted Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition Chair Marc Zucker in a prepared statement.

“The attacks on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the attack on the Poway, California synagogue and threats against synagogues elsewhere are among the more prominent examples of threats to the security and safety of members of the Jewish community and many other communities across the Commonwealth.

“The fact that 694 facilities with requests exceeding $22 million in aid could not receive any monetary assistance under this program is a signal that the perceived security risks and the inadequacy of existing safeguards are far greater than anticipated,” Zucker continued. “The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition is working with the Governor’s office and the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives to assure that Pennsylvanians can live and work in institutions which are safe and welcoming for all.” PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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