Shapiro Wants to Increase Funding for Grant Program That Helps Synagogues

Josh Shapiro (Courtesy of Commonwealth Media Services)

On Feb. 6, Gov. Josh Shapiro gave his budget address to the General Assembly. And in his speech, the Jewish governor included a major priority for his community: a doubling in funding to $10 million for the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

Instituted after the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting, the program provides security grants to synagogues, mosques and other nonprofit organizations. It has distributed $25 million in the five years since its inception, according to Hank Butler of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition.

Pennsylvania’s budget process begins with hearings in the General Assembly over the next three weeks, according to Butler. After that, negotiations will play out over several months.

“We’ll also increase nonprofit security grants for places like mosques, churches and synagogues …,” Shapiro said during a portion of the speech about addressing gun violence.

In 2023, organizations made 537 requests for security grants, according to Butler. Only 93 requests were granted.

“There’s a huge demand for these nonprofit security grants,” Butler said.

The program began during a moment of rising antisemitism in the United States. In year one, 67% of the grants went to Jewish organizations. Two years ago, that was down to 49%. Last year, only 42% of the organizations that got grants were Jewish.

Fewer Jewish nonprofits may need further grants once they get them, according to Butler. Muslim, Christian, LGBTQ and college communities are also in the mix.

“They’re all getting this grant,” Butler said.

At the same time, antisemitism has gotten worse in the U.S. in the 2020s. The Anti-Defamation League’s well-publicized count of antisemitic incidents recorded 3,697 incidents in 2022. That broke 2021’s record by 36%. (The ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.)

And in the U.S. in the months since the war between Israel and Hamas began, antisemitic incidents have increased by almost 400%, according to the ADL. The ADL’s Philadelphia office tracked more than 100 complaints of antisemitic incidents from Oct. 7 to early December, according to its regional director, Andrew Goretsky.

“Given the rise in hate and the rise in issues, the need for funding to secure institutions is important for a community’s safety,” Goretsky said.

Many Jewish organizations in the five-county Philadelphia area received grants in 2023. In Chester County, Beth Chaim Reform Congregation got $19,525, according to the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. In Delaware County, Temple Sholom in Broomall received $25,000. In Montgomery County, the I.S. Kosloff Torah Academy High School for Girls ($25,000), the Kaiserman Jewish Community Center ($30,080), Kohelet Yeshiva ($150,000), Old York Road Temple-Beth Am ($13,500) and the Perelman Jewish Day School ($75,000) received aid.

Photo by Miljan Živković / iStock / Getty Images Plus

And in Philadelphia County, the Chabad Jewish Center for Students of the Arts ($12,300), Chabad of Penn Wynne ($25,000), Congregation Rodeph Shalom ($25,000), Congregations of Shaare Shamayim ($25,000), Federation Day Care Services and Federation Early Learning Services ($75,000), Kol Tzedek ($45,500) and the Politz Hebrew Academy ($25,000) got grant money.

Applications are evaluated based on the specific needs of the organization and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s hate crime statistics, according to Butler. Organizations also must raise funds to match a portion of the grant money they receive.

Kohelet Yeshiva Executive Director Jennifer Groen said the school already had “very good security.” But it applied because it wanted to enhance its security even more.

“We’ve done independent security assessments,” she said.

“This is a major institutional priority,” she added. “We did a special security campaign this year. Families understood. I’m proud to say we met the goal in two months.”

Rabbi Moshe Brennan, who leads the Chabad of Penn Wynne, also said his organization had security measures in place. But it applied for a grant because it needed enhancements.

Mainly, the Chabad needed to cover the costs of security training for its congregants who handle security for the synagogue. It also needed to “update the stuff we have,” Brennan said.

“Of course, we believe that God is there and helps us,” the rabbi said. “But God helps those who help themselves.”

Luckily, the Chabad has not had any “specific threats,” Brennan said. But the rabbi is concerned about the “general climate.”

“We’re not waiting and reacting,” he said.

Instead, the synagogue is “being proactive in terms of keeping everybody safe.”

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