In a year of increased anti-Semitic activity in the United States, the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America (Orthodox Union) and Jewish community leaders across the commonwealth have expressed disappointment with the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s decision to defund security support for at-risk groups last week.
Although authorized to fund the nonprofit grant program through 2024, the legislature has now curtailed the five-year directive, zeroing out a resource demanded by the biased crimes and violence rampant in the country.
The Orthodox Union (OU) and coalition partners "are concerned for the safety of Jewish Pennsylvanians and dismayed by the precedent set by lawmakers in defunding a program to protect individuals and groups at-risk of hate crimes," the OU said in a statement. The statement added that "community leaders are calling upon the legislature to reconsider the defunding of the PCCD Nonprofit Security Grant Fund and re-invest in the safety of vulnerable communities at the next opportunity."
Following the massacre at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh in 2018, Pennsylvania leaders established the five-million-dollar Nonprofit Security Grant Program Fund, under the direction of Governor Tom Wolf, via Act 83 of 2019.
To date, just over $10 million has been awarded to 243 nonprofit organizations who, as required by regulation, "principally serve individuals, groups or institutions that are included within a bias motivation category for single bias hate crime incidents as identified by the FBI's Hate Crime Statistics publication."
Churches, mosques, synagogues and at-risk nonprofits of all types have applied for this competitive grant and been awarded at levels from $25,000 to $150,000, to be used for an array of security enhancements for the nonprofit’s facility.
"It is frightening to hear our friends and neighbors call with reports of broken windows at yeshivas, vandalism of synagogues, and physical assault at kosher restaurants. We will remain strong in our faith and consistent in our religious practice. We have asked our lawmakers to confront this hate in tangible ways and remain hopeful that resources will be made available to keep families safe," said Orthodox Union EVP Rabbi Moshe Hauer.
"As extremism and anti-Semitism continue to surge, a reduction in much needed security funding for our sacred institutions is alarming," said Rabbi Yehoshua Yeamans of Philadelphia’s Congregation B'nai Israel Ohev Zedek.
"As my own children are 6th generation Pennsylvanians, I’m especially grateful to our lawmakers for creating this grant two years ago, but fear we’ll be falling short as religiously-tolerant Pennsylvanians if we don’t continue to focus on keeping each other safe. Funding the Nonprofit Security Grant this year would have demonstrated Pennsylvania’s commitment to shunning religion-based hate, hopefully we can do better."
"The safety of our students and teachers is our utmost priority and we work hard to stretch our budget to bolster security and keep everyone safe. But we need help, since we’re forced to react to more and more hate," said Rabbi Yossi Baumgarten of Kingston’s Cheder Menachem School.