8 Bay Area Jewish nonprofits win anti-terrorist grants

Ellen Bob has written grant proposals before. None ever gave her nightmares until she requested federal Homeland Security funds to help protect her synagogue from terrorist attack.

Applying to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, the executive director at Palo Alto’s Congregation Etz Chayim had to contemplate worst-case scenarios.

“You do a risk analysis,” Bob said. “We tried to address things that are most likely that would have a horrible outcome. You need to write justification about why someone might want to target us. Jews are targets in America now.”

Etz Chayim was one of nine Bay Area institutions awarded NSGP grants for the coming year. Eight were Jewish — the only non-Jewish recipient was the Shia Association of Bay Area, a Shiite Muslim organization.

The Jewish grants ranged from $4,000 for San Francisco’s Magain David Sephardim Congregation to $75,000 each for several Jewish day schools and synagogues.

Other Jewish grantees included Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School, both in Palo Alto, Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, Brandeis Hillel Day School and the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, and Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon.

Bob’s synagogue was awarded $75,000 to replace old windows with hardened glass, as well as to install video surveillance, an electronic locking system and concrete barriers along the perimeter. “The focus is on deterrence,” she said. “By strengthening, you hope to become a less attractive target.”

Renee Mota-Jackson, who heads the infrastructure protections grants unit of California’s Office of Emergency Services, said that although hospitals and churches also apply, the vast majority of nonprofits awarded NSGP grants are Jewish.

“Ninety-five percent of the funds go to Jewish institutions,” she said. “California received this year $2,111,525 for 30 grantees.” Twenty-five of the grantees were Jewish organizations.

The federal government’s Department of Homeland Security launched the program in 2003. To obtain funding, grantees must submit detailed applications explaining how and why they may be under threat of terrorist attack.

Competition is intense, as is the maze of red tape applicants must navigate. Only a third are awarded grants, and even then funds may be used only for preapproved equipment that covers specific physical security enhancement or screening systems.

Those may include surveillance, access/intrusion control and explosion protection, covering everything from reinforced doors and motion sensors to blast-resistant trash receptacles.

Kol Shofar was awarded $75,000 for a security upgrade. Nancy Drapin, executive director of the Conservative synagogue, said the funds will pay for new perimeter fencing, parking lot lighting and advanced video camera equipment. She expects installation to begin around the first of the year.

Susie Greene, the assistant to the head of school at Kehillah, said her school’s $75,000 grant will go toward a key card access system, surveillance cameras and a new door opening/intercom system.

“It’s thrilling,” Greene says of the grant. “Every Jewish organization has to be aware of security, but not everyone can afford [it]. It’s huge for a nonprofit school that needs to put all its resources into education, students and programs. There’s not a lot left over for things like security.”

Drapin agrees.“It’s really important that Jewish institutions have this ability to provide and enhance their security systems without having to go into operational funds,” she said.

Mota-Jackson said grantees must attend upcoming workshops to learn how to keep up with the paperwork and follow-through the program requires. Depending on how soon they comply, institutions can expect funding as early as the end of the year.

As attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions skyrocketed in Europe since the outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas, local Jewish leaders worry some of that may spill over to the United States.

That’s why NSGP grantees feel the security upgrades can’t come soon enough.

Said Greene, “If the facilities are safe, then the community stays safe.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.