When the Department of Homeland Security announced in July that $15 million in additional funding will be made available in security grants to nonprofit institutions – including many synagogues and Jewish schools – the Orthodox Union could take satisfaction that working with its partners, it played a major role in freeing up these funds to protect individuals and facilities from terrorist attacks.
Since September 11, 2001, the OU, through its Institute for Public Affairs and Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services, has worked with the United Jewish Communities, Jewish federations and concerned elected officials to create and strengthen the nonprofit grants program. Since its inception, the program, part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative, has provided approximately $50 million to vulnerable non-profits, including many in the Jewish community. The program awards are risk based on the likelihood of a terrorist attack and/or the targets’ symbolic or historic value.
Synagogues and Jewish schools are, of course, institutions that would qualify under these guidelines. Eleven Orthodox Union member congregations and 12 yeshivot/day schools across the country are among the facilities that have been recipients of these grants. The OU has supported these grants despite the opposition of some in the Jewish community who believe that providing government funding to religious institutions would be a violation of church/state separation.
In a statement, OU President Stephen J. Savitsky declared, “We are grateful to the Bush Administration, Secretary Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security that it has offered this aid to synagogues and other Jewish organizations that are high profile targets but lack the resources needed to secure their buildings and those who pray and study within them. We are proud that the OU, through our Institute for Public Affairs and Department of Synagogue Services, played a key role in the appropriation and distribution of these funds.”
Mr. Savitsky added, “With the coming of the new school year and the approach of the High Holy Days, when synagogue attendance is at its highest levels, it is comforting to know that federal funding is again being made available to protect the Jewish community and its institutions. The Orthodox Union considers it to be among its highest priorities to work with Washington, as well as with state and local governments, to secure this funding and to make certain that Jewish facilities receive their proper share. This is a priority that will continue to define our agenda regarding our relationships with government.”
IPA Director Nathan J. Diament expressed the OU’s gratitude to the many Members of Congress, of both parties, who pressed for this program, including Senators Byrd (WVA), Cochran (MS), Mikulski (MD) and Specter (PA) as well as Representatives Price (NC), Cantor (VA), Rogers (KY) and Weiner (NY).