The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization representing nearly 1,000 synagogues – applauded the United States Congress for approving, in the context of the homeland security appropriations bill, the establishment of a $25 million fund for making grants to at-risk non-profit institutions to improve their physical security in the face of terrorist threats.
One year ago, the UOJCA joined with a coalition of America’s leading non-profit organizations (including, among others, United Jewish Communities, American Jewish Congress, the Red Cross and United Way) and members of the U.S. Congress to develop and introduce legislation which would provide financial aid to non-profit institutions at risk of terrorist attack. The risk to such institutions since 9/11 is clear. Former CIA Director Tenet and FBI Director Mueller have publicly stated that al Qaeda has turned its focus to “soft targets” such as schools, universities and houses of worship. Of particular concern to the UOJCA, are the deadly attacks upon synagogues which have been perpetrated in Istanbul and Tunisa.
While stand alone legislation (S.2275) to address this concern has been passed by committees in both the Senate and House, the UOJCA and its coalition partners were concerned that this critical need would not be addressed prior to Congress’ adjournment. Thus, the coalition worked intensively with Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to develop an approach which would address this critical need through the appropriations process. With the assistance of Senate Majority Leader Frist (R-TN) as well as Senators Cochran (R-MS) and Daschle (D-SD), a provision for federal security grants to at-risk non-profits was added to the appropriations bill during the Senate’s consideration last month.
Intensive work with House Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Senators Frist and Specter resulted in the final “conference report” of the appropriations bill, which was passed by the House last week and the Senate today, providing $25 million “for assistance to organizations as described under section 501(c)(3) [of the tax Code]…as determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security to be at high-risk of international terrorist attack.” Under the terms of this bill, these grants will be available to improve the security at any nonprofit – religious or secular – deemed by objective criteria to be at risk of terrorist attack.
UOJCA President Harvey Blitz stated, in reaction to the legislation’s passage that “the American Jewish community deeply appreciates Congress’ recognition of the current security challenges confronting our community’s institutions, including synagogues and schools alongside other non-profits, and Congress’ willingness to devote real resources to helping our community be more secure in the face of threats.” UOJCA Director of Public Policy Nathan Diament stated: “Our community owes a special thanks to the entire U.S. Congress, but particularly Congressman Cantor and Senators Frist, Specter and Mikulski who were critical to ensuring this provision remained in the final version of the appropriations bill.”