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Sunday, February 23, 2020

On the very last day of a two-year legislative session, the New Jersey legislature voted overwhelmingly to approve a supplemental appropriations bill that would expand the state’s nonprofit security grant program, doubling it from its current $1 million to $2 million. The move comes in the wake of an alarming spike in anti-Jewish crimes in the region, including the deadly shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City and a machete attack at a Chanukah party at the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, next door to his shul.

The New Jersey Office of Agudath Israel immediately applauded the legislature for its unanimous support. “We are particularly grateful to the bill’s sponsors, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), Senator Joe Cryan (D-20) and Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), for introducing the legislation in the Senate and Assembly, respectively,” said Agudah’s director of New Jersey operations Rabbi Avi Schnall.

The bill now heads to Governor Phil Murphy’s desk. “The governor has been a staunch supporter of nonprofits in the state and has long advocated for additional safety measures to be taken. We are confident he will sign it and look forward to him doing so,” added Rabbi Schnall. Gov. Murphy has 45 days to sign the bill, and the grant process is set to open at the end of March.

Rabbi Schnall also noted that the nature of this bill, that it was presented as a supplemental spending bill outside the general annual budgeting cycle, was unique, and to get appropriated an additional million in funds at this time of the year is noteworthy. “We will certainly be working intensively in the coming months for a more significant increase in funding for the coming year, but we are very grateful now for the unanimous support of the legislature on this,” he told The Jewish Link.

CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey Jason Shames told The Jewish Link that the increase in grant funding was a good start, but he also added that he wanted to temper the community’s stress on this situation, indicating that he hoped people understood we are not facing a situation like Germany in the 1930s.

“Elected officials and law enforcement have our backs and this is an affront to them as well. These [acts of violence] are being perpetrated by a small, small group of lone wolves who have found each other on a small corner of the dark web and on social media who are perpetuating these acts without fear of repercussions. I am not condoning this and am completely horrified by any attack on any race, culture or movement. I am not justifying it. But I do take comfort that the authorities and elected officials are taking it seriously, responding to threats and prosecuting individuals who engage in this.”

Passaic’s Assemblyman Schaer, for example, is one such elected official who is out in front on this issue and has been directly lobbying Gov. Murphy to approve both the supplemental funding increase and an increase in nonpublic school security for next year. This year’s number of $150 per student is asked to be increased to $250 per student, as well as an increased allocation in the next fiscal year for the NJ Nonprofit Security Grant Pilot Program from $1 million to $10 million. He advised the OU’s Teach NJ to advocate on behalf of this significant increase; Teach NJ will be launching a community letter-writing and advocacy campaign on this topic during the week of Parshat Bo.

Shames added that another aspect that has exacerbated the current climate is that the civil discourse in this country—literally, the way people talk to each other—is causing some of the issues that have divided the nation. “The dialogue is no longer respectful in our society. A lot of this is ‘Twitter-type’ stuff, where people don’t treat others with respect in public forums.”

The New Jersey Nonpublic Security Grant Program (NSPG) currently provides houses of worship and schools up to $50,000 for target hardening and up to $10,000 for security personnel during high-risk seasons. Doubling the amount of funds available in the grant program ensures that even more New Jersey nonprofits, including synagogues, private schools and community centers, will be able to receive the much-needed funds.