BOSTON (SHNS) – Frightened in recent years by the stabbing of a rabbi in Brighton, a hostage situation at a Texas synagogue, and the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Jewish organizations in Massachusetts have clamored for state funding to strengthen security infrastructure at their temples and day schools.
Seventy-two religious institutions, also encompassing churches and Muslim centers, as well as health care facilities and human services organizations applied for more than $5 million worth of grants in fiscal 2023 through a program that supports “target hardening” and other “physical security enhancements” at nonprofits considered to be at high risk for terrorist attacks and hate crimes.
The money, for example, covers door locks, surveillance video cameras, building alarms, intercom systems, fencing and lighting.
But limited funds available for the Commonwealth Nonprofit Security Grant Program meant only half of those applicants secured grants totaling $2.85 million, according to a report from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS). Applicants who hadn’t received the state grant in past cycles or a similar federal grant were prioritized.
When the grant recipients were unveiled in April, Gov. Maura Healey said in a statement that her administration “remains committed to ensuring the safety of those they service as centers of community, art and culture, learning, and social services.” Lt. Gov. Driscoll said the vigilance of nonprofits “gives all of us peace of mind.”
Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly received a grant of more than $91,000, as the congregation grew concerned by graffiti on the building, a sticker from a white supremacist group at a nearby traffic intersection, and the antisemitic Boston Mapping Project that outlined the locations of Jewish organizations and nonprofits statewide, said vice president Linda Goodspeed. As part of the grant application process, Goodspeed said the Beverly Police Department chief wrote a letter detailing building improvements that were needed to bolster safety.
“We always say the statistical chance that something may happen may be small — but if something happens, it would be catastrophic,” Goodspeed said. “It’s really important that all our members, employees and teachers feel safe when they’re in the temple. It’s a top concern for us.”
Massachusetts saw a 41 percent rise in antisemitic attacks from 2021 to 2022, according to a May report from the ADL Center on Extremism. Researchers found the commonwealth also had the sixth highest rate of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault last year.
Earlier this month, as Healey signed the fiscal 2024 budget into law, she slashed the $4 million allocation for the next round of nonprofit security grants approved by the Legislature by $2.5 million. In a line veto document that left $1.5 million for the grants, Healey indicated that “alternate funding for this purpose” was previously appropriated using federal COVID-19 relief dollars within an economic development bill signed by former Gov. Charlie Baker in November 2022.
The budget preserves $300,000 for a “security personnel program,” which is embedded in the nonprofit security grant line item, for organizations that can demonstrate a high risk for terrorist attacks and hate crimes, administration officials said.
Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem said Healey’s funding reduction sparked concern among her constituents, including “vocal” members of the Orthodox Jewish community who say their congregations cannot afford to fully pay for building security measures and are relying on the state for help in a time of rising antisemitism.
At her own synagogue, the Newton Democrat said she needs to use a special security card to enter the building.
“This is terrible to even think we have to have security in order to worship, but we do,” Creem said.
The ADL New England declined to comment on Healey’s veto.
“As the lead advocates for the nonprofit security grant program, we appreciate the deep commitment demonstrated to funding this program and look forward to on-going conversations and opportunities to work with the Legislature and the Governor to continue meet the needs of at-risk organizations across the Commonwealth,” said FayeRuth Fisher, senior director of public affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council, in a statement.
Creem, initially confused by the funding mechanisms behind the governor’s veto, said last week she was considering a potential veto override this fall with Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues and Senate President Karen Spilka, who support the grant program. A veto override needs to originate in the House of Representatives before the Senate can take its own action, but branch leaders often work on overrides in tandem.
As it turns out, the $5 million that Healey alluded to has yet to be distributed through a separate grant program with the same overarching purpose for strengthening security at houses of worship, among other nonprofits across the state, said EOPSS spokesperson Tim McGuirk. The funds will be available through fiscal 2027, he said.
Creem said Tuesday that the House and Senate Ways and Means committees will need to wade through the “nuts and bolts” of the funding contained in the budget and last year’s economic development law, though she’s still pushing to restore the full amount that Healey cut. Creem added she has a “lot of faith in” Healey and doesn’t want to engage in “name calling” as discussions unfold around budget vetoes.
“My position from my district is I need as much as we can get because we have a huge need,” Creem said, as she lamented synagogues, churches and mosques that didn’t receive nonprofit security grants in the past fiscal year. “My position is we can use all of it. There’s been a huge demand — that demand would have covered both amounts.”
McGuirk said EOPSS is still designing the new grant program, including determining the award criteria.
“That process is nearly complete, and we anticipate beginning to use those funds shortly,” McGuirk said in a statement without committing to a timeline.
Stan Schapiro, co-president of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, sounded eager to learn more about the pending opportunity for additional state funding after officials rejected the synagogue’s request for a nearly $94,000 nonprofit security grant in fiscal 2023. The synagogue previously received a grant, though members continue to be on edge about safety issues, including passersby looking into the building in a “menacing way,” Schapiro said.
Schapiro said he’s concerned more broadly about escalating antisemitic and white supremacist attacks statewide and nationally, combined with a “general fear of violent incidents and gun incidents in our society.” Massachusetts recorded the second highest number of white supremacist propaganda incidents last year, trailing only Texas, the ADL report found.
“We don’t want to fool ourselves … we’re not insulated” from hate groups, Schapiro said. “We haven’t had any serious incidents, but you never know.”
The Epstein Hillel School, a Jewish day school in Marblehead that enrolls students from kindergarten to eighth grade, also failed to get a $100,000 grant from the state in the most recent cycle. But it previously received an almost $50,000 state grant, plus funding from a similar security infrastructure grant administered by Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, said Michael Slater, the school’s director of finance and operations.
“We’re grateful for what we’ve received,” said Slater, who noted another grant would have translated into additional security investments, including requests from teachers to make the school building safer. Slater, calling the grant rejection “disappointing,” declined to disclose specific needs due to public safety concerns.
“We would welcome the need to get more because we think the need is valid,” Slater said. “Successive governors and legislatures have cared about and prioritized the issue, and we’re grateful for that. It isn’t the case all over the world that that happens.”