By Stacey Dresner
BOSTON – Temple Beth El in Springfield just sent out its membership bills for 2020.
“There is now a permanent 10 percent surcharge for security that goes out with the bills,” said Maxine Bernstein, president of Beth El. “We use that money to pay for a police car every week on Saturday during morning services and for Friday nights and special events.”
Bernstein said she was glad to hear about the additional $1 million in security funding that Gov. Charlie Baker signed into the FY 2019 closeout supplemental budget, which will go into the Homeland Security Commonwealth Nonprofit Security Grant Program (CNSGP). These grants will now provide $1,435,000 in funding for security enhancements to nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts that are at high risk of terrorist attacks or hate crimes but are ineligible for similar federal grants.
Through the program, houses of worship and other faith-based non-profit organizations must apply for the grants by Jan. 31; they are eligible to apply for a one-time grant of up to $50,000.
“This is a big relief because security is expensive and most of the institutions have had to go out and get additional funds from their congregations,” Bernstein said. “Security is front and center in our discussions and we are actively engaged in making our synagogue as safe as it can possibly be.”
Legislators and representatives of several Boston-area Jewish Federations and organizations were on hand on Jan. 6 when Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito held a press conference and ceremonial signing of the sections of the state’s supplemental budget that will triple funding for the grants.
“Massachusetts is a welcoming community that embraces people of all faiths, and it’s important that people across the Commonwealth have the opportunity to come together with neighbors and worship without fear,” said Gov. Baker. “These funds will assist houses of worship and other community-based institutions across the state in preserving their safety from those who would do them harm.”
“I was with my wife and daughters in synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018 when the rabbi pulled the congregants aside to tell us about the unspeakable anti-Semitic murders at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh,” said Sen. Eric Lesser at the press conference. “Unfortunately, hate crimes both nationally and here in Massachusetts continue to increase. Simply put, intolerance and hate has no place in society, and all of us, of every faith, race and background, must unite in common purpose to say “Never Again.”
Steven Schimmel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. was one of Jewish professionals at the event.
“It was recognition that the community needs to address this growing concern, and it’s comforting to know that the government leadership, at least on the state level, understands and recognizes the threats we are facing and is allocating this money,” he said.
On Jan. 7, the day after the press conference, Stew Bromberg, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., sent out a letter to community leaders notifying them of the grants and encouraging all agencies to apply. “The Jewish Federation is aware of the many security upgrades still needed in the community,” he said in the letter. “In order to maximize the chances that local organizations will receive funding through this grant opportunity, we encourage each organization to apply.”
Bromberg told the Jewish Ledger that while he appreciated the increase in funding, that the Jewish Federation had applied for funding from the state grant program last year “and we were very disappointed that none of it came to Western Massachusetts…I’m hoping that at least some of our agencies receive $50,000 grants from the state program, because that will help us ease the financial need in our community if at least some of the people do get that money.”
This will be the first time the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. applies for the grant, Schimmel said.
“There is a lot of interest in the community because I have been in touch with synagogue leadership from Agudat Achim, BI, Beth Tikvah, the Jewish Healthcare Center – they have all written to me about what they can do to have successful applications,” Schimmel said. “I don’t necessarily think that is the best way to do it. I would have preferred to have [the funding] come through Federation and have it be distributed to the community because, in a way, this sort of creates competition among our congregations when each of us, I think, face the same threats. There is no reason to think any one of our congregations is in any less a secure situation than any others.”
Temple Beth El in Springfield will be applying for the grant for the first time, Bernstein said.
“We get most of our grant funding through Federation, so we had not directly applied before. We are looking into this one now and our executive director is doing some of the research,” Bernstein explained. “What he saw was that it was the Boston area that the money was going to. We don’t know if [the grant proposal] will be accepted now or for how much, but we are going to apply anyway.”
The Commonwealth Nonprofit Security Grant Program was first instituted in 2017. Funding in the state was first set at $75,000. It was doubled to $150,000 in 2018 and was increased to $500,000 in 2019.
Gov. Baker initially proposed the additional $1 million in funding in his supplemental budget proposal filed in September 2019.
The grants are to be used to enhance safety and security for organizations’ buildings and their members and staff.
Bromberg listed several security measures that nonprofits, like area synagogues, can take – shatter-proof film on windows, security cameras, better lighting, more secure doors, staff training and visible security, like the Springfield Police officers who provide security to Temple Beth El and other institutions.
“There are all these things we can do, and all of these things cost money,” Bromberg said.
Bernstein said that the leadership at Beth El has several ideas about how they could use the grant.
“I’m actively working on it. We are trying to push it because we realize we are playing catch up a little bit here,” she said. “This is unprecedented, what’s happening now. Getting these grants, working through Homeland Security, doing the kinds of work we are doing to upgrade the security, partnering with the local police and partnering with organizations for training – all of this is new territory for all of us.
“You don’t want to wait until something happens and then have to react to it. You want to be proactive and be preventive – to anticipate what could happen and make sure that you have plans in place to address it.”
Nonprofit organizations seeking to apply for grant funding can visit https://www.mass.gov/how-to/apply-for-a-commonwealth-nonprofit-security-grant for more information.