By Stacey Dresner
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Charlie Baker’s latest supplemental state budget includes an additional $1 million for Massachusetts’ Nonprofit Security Grant program, which was introduced in the state after the Springfield Jewish Community Center received a series of bomb threats in 2017.
The fiscal 2020 state budget originally allocated $500,000 for the security grant — the largest amount designated to provide nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts – including religious institutions — with funds to be used for security.
The supplemental budget still must be agreed upon by the legislature. If it is approved, a total of $1.5 million will be available to state non-profits through the security grant program for the fiscal year 2020.
“It’s promising,” said Michael Paysnick, executive director of the Springfield JCC. “At least there is a sense that the need is there and a willingness on the part of the state to begin to help fund it.
“It’s a far cry from the $75,000 that they gave two years ago,” Paysnick added, referring to the state’s non-profit security grant pilot program instituted after the 2017 bomb threats.
In 2018, the legislature increased the sum to only $150,000.
But since then, the number of anti-Semitic attacks has only skyrocketed. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Jewish communities in the United States experienced “near-historic levels of anti-Semitism in 2018.” This included the white supremacist shootings at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Last April, another shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, resulted in one death and several injuries. And within the last month, several Chasidic men have been violently attacked in Brooklyn, N.Y., including a man and his teenage son, both of whom were stabbed.
After the Poway shooting, a letter expressing the crucial need for the state to help funding additional security for nonprofits was sent to Gov. Baker, signed by the heads of Jewish Community Relations Commissions, Jewish Federations and synagogues throughout the state – including Stew Bromberg, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., Steven Schimmel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass., and Dara Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.
“The sanctity of our houses of worship has been pierced by the horror of antisemitism and our sense of security is in peril,” the letter read. “While we are grateful to our partners in government for denouncing violence, hatred, and antisemitism and offering comfort and offering healing in our time of need, our communities require more.”
The letter went on to detail the amount of funding that other states have offered to non profits to use for safety and security — $10 million from the State of New York, $11.3 million in New Jersey; $5 million in Maryland; and $15 million in California.
Senator Eric P. Lesser was the lead sponsor of the legislation this year.
“We are pleased to see the governor allocate more funds towards this very important program,” Sen. Lesser said. “The bomb threats levied against the Springfield JCC three years ago serve as harrowing reminders that hate crimes are more than statistics – they can happen in our own backyards at any time. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to expand the nonprofit security grants program from $75,000 in its first year of existence to potentially $1.5 million once this supplemental budget is approved. Our most vital job as legislators is to protect our constituents. We cannot let them down.”
Paynick praised the JCRC as well as legislators like Lesser “who have been tireless advocates for this funding.”
But he sees the need for funding security continuing to grow.
“The amount of money the Center and the synagogues, and I’m sure other agencies have put towards security, is multiples of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years, and the need continues to be there,” Paysnick explained. “There are requests on the part of the memberships and the demand to ensure that the facilities are safe and secure so that they feel comfortable coming. To have the state providing some support is important and welcome.”