U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., Assemblyman Gary Schaer, former Congressman Herb Klein, Passaic County Commissioners Bruce James and Pat Lepore joined with clergy and representatives of the Jewish community Wednesday at the Jewish Family Service and Children’s Center of Clifton-Passaic. The facility, according to its Executive Director Rabbi Alexander Herzog, caters to 400-500 active clients on any given day. The meeting was held to discuss the budgeting of $180 million by the Department of Homeland Security to offer grants for increasing security for religious non-profits and the State of New Jersey’s new Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which will provide $2 million annually to eligible entities.
The Non-Profit Security Aid Grant will make money available for select non-profits to enhance their security apparatus and comes at a time when the country has seen a massive increase in violent, anti-Semitic attacks. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported over 2,000 incidents in 2020 and that one in every four Jews in the United States has reported experiencing an anti-Semitic incident within the last year.
Congressman Pascrell (CD-9) led the discussion, emphasizing the need for the grants and their implementation as a reflection of the sad state of the country. “This is pretty significant business. Not because I say so but because people are threatened, day in and day out. Most of the time we don’t pay much attention, particularly in terms of the Jewish community. We’ve got to know these things have been going on, not just for two weeks or two years, but going on for a long time.”
Pascrell said that the non-profit security program was established in the Bush years and the first grant was issued in 2005. “I was on Homeland Security at that time. We put it together with Barry Thompson, present chairman of the January 6th Committee. But now this year I’m joined by Congressman John Katko, a Republican from New York, and we wrote a letter signed by 174 members of the Congress calling for increased funding.”
The desired increase would be to $360 million, according to Pascrell, or double its present expected amount. “This increases the national security grant funding for the upcoming fiscal year of 2022. It’s part of the Homeland Security package… We’re hopeful that the Congress will advance an omnibus appropriations package later this month. The National Security Grant Program helps provide security to nonprofit organizations, such as houses of worship.”
Citing the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, Pascrell slammed former President Donald Trump for saying that there were “good people on both sides.” The congressman warned that the public has a tendency to forget the very real threat which exists from hate groups and white supremacists in the United States, and that fact makes the Non-Profit Security Aid Grant particularly important for potentially targeted religious communities.
Pascrell told the gathering that in the Bush years, a report had been compiled about extremism in the United States, a report which had been unwanted by the Republican Party and squashed by the Democratic administration which followed. “Bush was earnest about it, but his party wasn’t. His party wanted no part in an investigation into extremism.” Pascrell said after he left the Homeland Security Committee, the head of Homeland Security had been replaced with Janet Napolitano by former President Barack Obama. The investigations into home-grown extremism were then “deep sixed” by the administration. “I was really angry. I’m sure Obama had political reasons, which were not acceptable to me by any stretch of the imagination. And [Napolitano] told us that’s why she was there—and the Republicans were happy. Of course, they were complaining about this. That was the message: we’re gonna have peace in the valley. Well, that did not bring peace. So here we are today dealing with the same subject matter, extremism, and I don’t have to go into the hills of Idaho to find these folks, who call themselves ‘American’ and they carry the American flag, but some of them hate Americans and some of us are hated by them.”
Pascrell continued. “We all saw the unsettling events that occurred at Congregation Beth Israel in Texas just last month. We have to combat this deplorable trend. People must feel safe whenever and wherever they worship. The deadliest anti-Semitic violence in American history took place just four years ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue. I remember going to many memorials. Then there was the disgusting terror attack in Jersey City. In 2012 when I ran in the new district primary I remembered going to one of the police centers in Bergen County to talk about what had happened in Rutherford. Somebody threw an especially dangerous explosive into where the rabbi lived with his family. I met the rabbi and followed what I had learned on the Ways and Means Committee and got him a grant to protect himself. In America, in the United States of America!”
In 2021, Pascrell said that there were 82 New Jersey applicants for the grant which totaled $11,600,000, a million of which went into CD-9. New Jersey, the congressman said, was the second largest recipient of the funds in the US and that while some might see that as a positive in terms of getting funding, he saw it as a negative as reflective of the need in the state. The Jewish Family Service and Children’s Center of Clifton-Passaic itself was a recipient of a grant three years ago. “I helped create this program to protect us from harm. And when Jews are harmed, we are all harmed… Remember Wallenberg, his words, ‘and then they came for me’.”
Assemblyman Schaer next spoke, thanking Pascrell for his work in the congress fighting for the grants. “Anti-Semitism is not something which is new to any of us, and it’s something which we pray each and every day will extinguish. But the bottom line is, it hasn’t, and it probably won’t. Not without tremendous amounts of educational initiatives, and we are far away from them. But what we can do is protect those institutions, both physical, spiritual, and in all other ways, from any kind of harm, and more than the institutions, to protect the people who go there. The grant awards, which are being made available as a result of Congressman Pascrell’s initiative, includes synagogues, day schools, Jewish institutions such as this, but it’s not just the Jewish community which will benefit from this funding. Indeed, we will have funding coming to our mosques and other institutions of the Islamic community, of the Christian community, of the Catholic community, indeed, of every minority community within this district, and within this state. We can only thank Governor Murphy for the initiatives which he placed in action also. The state will be giving approximately $2 million a year to institutions in New Jersey as well.”
Schaer concluded saying that the grant was not just desirable, but necessary, and was saving lives. Applicants for the grant go through a “rigorous” checklist of expenditures to determine which are appropriate, such as hiring security personnel and technological security enhancements.
“It’s very powerful to hear strong words of encouragement and support for this piece of legislation,” Rabbi Herzog said. “We cannot deny and ignore the reality that there is evil in the world, but hearing the words of support today, it is evident that there is also good. Seeing the support from the Congressman today is really reassuring and it’s inspiring to know that the Jewish community has friends and supporters, like all of you, like the Congressman.”
Herzog urged all eligible non-profit organizations to take advantage of the security grant.