North Shore synagogues have scrambled to beef up security ever since the October 2018 Tree of Life shooting left 11 dead and six injured in Pittsburgh. They’ve been on their own to cover the hefty costs, running well into the six figures in some cases.
But some help is on the way.
Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston plans to allocate $350,000 in Communal Security grants in the spring, according to spokeswoman Karen Kuwayti. Funding will be distributed to Jewish institutions, including synagogues and other non-profits.
“We have looked at these institutions and needing to spend $100,000 to $200,000 at an institution for security is not surprising,” said Jeremy Yamin, associate vice president and director of security and operations at CJP, referring to large institutions that have no security in place. “You get into replacing exterior doors, building vestibules, alarm systems, all kinds of different things. That’s a serious need, and those are things that we certainly support.”
Details of the grant program have not yet been released. Synagogues can monitor the CJP Jewish Communal Security Initiative website, cjp.org/communalsecurity.
CJP’s initiative further expands its communal security program, which has grown from a $10,000 budget item in fiscal 2015 to $817,000 in the current fiscal year. Much of the funding has thus far gone toward adding three new staffers and providing outreach, such as free consultations on facilities’ security needs, defibrillators for schools, and consulting for synagogues and other institutions on how to apply for government security grants. To date, CJP has conducted 80 security trainings directly for 2,500 people.
In its first round of grants, CJP gave out $150,000 in fiscal 2019. Those funds went to the region’s 36 preschools and 14 day schools. The upcoming round of CJP funding this spring means local synagogues and nonprofits will have another much-needed assistance stream besides private loans, government grants, security fees, special assessments, and individual donations to cover rising security expenses.
Security-related expenses have been rising fast. Synagogues across Massachusetts are facing a common set of security challenges, according to David Bernat, executive director of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts. Costs associated with hiring guards rank among the factors requiring budgets to stretch, he said.
“You have more and more congregations getting police details – not only at High Holidays, when that would have been typical, but every Shabbat and when there are lectures or events,” Bernat said.
Among the trends he notices: congregations consulting with Community Security Service, a New York-based nonprofit, to provide threat awareness training for greeters and guidance in how to respond in the event of an attack.
“Some communities would like to hire more people who are armed,” Bernat said. “And there are some communities who have members who might be licensed to carry be involved in that.“
To date, security grants have been aimed at physical hardening of facilities. And congregations haven’t been waiting for outside funding to arrive. They’ve been making upgrades, such as new doors that replaced old wooden ones at Temple Ner Tamid of the North Shore in Peabody. Now linked to a buzzer entry system, the doors are always locked.
“Some people said: ‘If you don’t lock the door, we’re not going to come,’” said Rabbi Richard Perlman. “And so we’ve been locking the door.”
In the wake of the Pittsburgh massacre, more anti-Semitic attacks – including suspicious fires set at Chabad houses in Arlington and Needham last May and stabbings at a New York synagogue in December – have convinced Jewish institutions that ongoing vigilance is needed.
Synagogues have incurred mounting bills for everything from high resolution cameras and improved lighting to armed guards, according to a November 2019 survey from the Union of Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Among the insights from 396 responding synagogues:
• 91 percent have increased funding for security over the past year
• 46 percent have added a special assessment to pay for increased security expenses
• 58 percent of synagogues with security fees charge $75 to $200 per membership unit
• 52 percent of synagogues now spend upwards of $20,000 per year on security
• 69 percent say it is either likely or very likely they will increase security spending in 2020
Though anti-Semitism and threats against Jews are nothing new, Brandeis University historian Jonathan D. Sarna said what we’re seeing now is different.
“I cannot recall a time when there was the same focus on security and securing religious institutions as is true today,” said Sarna. “There have been many more attacks on churches, synagogues, and religious institutions than in the past. And worst of all, because of a new style of weapons, those attacks tend to be more deadly than they ever were.”
The availability of new funds comes just in time for congregations like Temple Ner Tamid. The synagogue spent about $30,000 last year on security upgrades that were recommended, including new locks, shatterproof windows, and increased lighting. To fund such improvements, the congregation took out a loan and began charging members a security fee on top of annual dues in order to afford monthly payments on the note, according to John Dunn, chairman of the temple’s security committee.
Faced with both security concerns and steep bills, congregations have welcomed news of yet another source of funds through government security grants. In January, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security accepted applications to an expanded Commonwealth Nonprofit Security Grant Program. The available funding grew from $500,000 to $1.5 million for fiscal year 2020. The deadline for applications was Jan. 31.
Federal funding also is expanding through a pilot program that includes suburbs. In October, the Baker administration announced $655,000 in federal security grants for seven Massachusetts houses of worship, including $50,000 for Chabad of Peabody Jewish Center.
Chabad of Peabody, which had a window shattered in a November 2018 BB gun incident that’s gone unsolved, has been trying to harden its exterior while still maintaining a welcoming atmosphere, according to Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman. Plans call for various measures, including new obstacles to prevent a vehicular attack on the building or playground; motion sensor activated lighting; and more cameras and security windows.
“A temple by its definition these days has become a target,” Schusterman said. “Therefore you’ve got to be responsible to make sure that when people come to pray to God, you’re doing what you can as an executive, as the director of an organization, to make sure that those who come are safe and protected.”
But securing funding for the work has been a challenge. The congregation hired a grant writer to pursue the federal money.
“The grant process is painful … that’s the only way I can describe it,” Schusterman said. “Even once the process is done, there’s still more follow-up work that’s necessary. You have to trace every penny, you have to get quotes on everything … but the bottom line is we got it, and 50 grand is a lot of money.”
At nearby Temple Ner Tamid, grant funding has yet to materialize, even though additional security is needed, Dunn said. Federal grants have been out of reach, he said, in part because the complex application process would require more time and perhaps more expertise than Temple Ner Tamid can commit to the project.
“I tried to start looking at the federal government grant application, but the bureaucracy associated with that just stopped the show,” Dunn said. “I threw my hands up and said, ‘I don’t have the time for this.’”
Ner Tamid applied instead for a Commonwealth Nonprofit Security Grant. If the grant is approved, the $35,000 sum would pay for such measures as security camera upgrades, wireless intercoms with panic buttons, and an internal locking system that can seal off rooms in the event of a breach, such as an active shooter inside. The application took 60 hours to prepare, Dunn said.
With funding scarce and difficult to access so far, synagogues have been turning over every stone to find resources. When the URJ-USCJ survey asked where they’re getting funds for additional security, 60 percent said operations budgets; 46 percent said a security fee or special assessment; 30 percent said a donor or an earmarked fund; 8 percent said endowments.
“Will there be money available from CJP and these grants to fulfill everybody’s needs? Probably not,” said Bernat of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts. “That’s why a combination of volunteers, police details and these sorts of things is often the type of thing that does the trick.”
While taking a multifaceted approach, congregations need to keep security in proper perspective, Bernat said.
“It’s important to be vigilant but not let our vigilance turn into a crippling fear where this becomes the thing that motivates everything that we do,” Bernat said.
Hefty spending on security shows no signs of abating, even after facilities are hardened to the degrees that experts recommend. That’s partly because as technology improves, upgrades can yield meaningful benefits, such as more sensitive alarms and higher resolution cameras.
Another reason: professionally trained armed guards, to date, have been excluded from grant funding, but they’re increasingly regarded as a necessity. According to the URJ-USCJ survey, 77 percent of synagogues employed an armed guard in 2019, up from 69 percent in 2018.
Congregations that rely on armed security should use off-duty police officers or recently retired officers who maintain current certifications or training, according to a January report from the Secure Community Network, a nonprofit that serves the American Jewish community. Such practices generally cost more than hiring private security or relying on congregants with concealed carry permits, but the extra costs lead to less risk and greater security, according to Michael Masters, CEO of SCN.
“The Jewish community faces the most complex and dynamic threat environment today in this country that it has ever faced in our history,” Masters said. “So unfortunately, just like we budget to pay for utilities and water and flowers on the bimah, the [synagogue security] budget needs to increasingly reflect the reality of the world that we live in.”