Pittsburgh Jewish community seeks public grants for security
As violent attacks against the Jewish community in the U.S. double, heightened security has been in place at many Jewish day schools, synagogues; now, the Pittsburgh community, that suffered a mass shooting in October, is asking state lawmakers for help paying for security measures.
Amid a rise of violent attacks against the Jewish community, students and staff members at Jewish day schools in the same neighborhood as the Pittsburgh synagogue that was the site of October’s mass shooting are asking state lawmakers for help paying for security measures.
They went to Pennsylvania’s Capitol on Tuesday, along with delegations from Jewish schools in other cities around the state, to meet with lawmakers about including non-public schools in a year-old $60 million school security grant program.
It is a conversation that is growing in a number of states. New Jersey doubled money for such grants in January and California’s governor is upping his spending request to $15 million — from $500,000 — for increased security at nonprofit organizations at higher risk of hate crimes, like the synagogue near San Diego where a gunman killed a worshipper late last month.
Like some other states, Pennsylvania began a $10 million school safety grant program after the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. It then created a new, $60 million school and community security grant program after last year’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, but private schools did not have access to the grants.
Heightened security has been in place at many Jewish day schools in recent years.
But parents and staff at Jewish day schools say they are more alarmed now in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the shooting at Poway Chabad synagogue near San Diego on the last day of the Jewish holiday of Passover.
“Our students that go to school that next Monday, they’re aware, they’re aware of what happened on Passover at the synagogue, and what happens when you’re wearing a yamaka on your head,” said Arielle Frankston-Morris, executive director of the Jewish education advocacy organization Teach PA.
Security has been on the minds of parents and staff for “a long time,” she said. “But after Pittsburgh, you can’t ignore it, it’s just in your face.”
Violent attacks against the Jewish community in the United States doubled last year, while overall attacks that also include vandalism and harassment remained near record-high levels, the Anti-Defamation League reported last week.
Samara Sofian, director of development for the Silver Academy in Harrisburg, said parents of the Jewish day school’s students are asked to pay a security fee every year. But, she said, it doesn’t go far enough and annually that expense increases, even if the school isn’t adding safety measures.
Recently introduced legislation in the Republican-controlled Legislature is drawing bipartisan support. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, sympathizes with the safety and security concerns of the Jewish community and his office is reviewing the bill, his office said in a statement.
Isaac Entin, head of the Caskey Torah Academy in suburban Philadelphia, said the cost of security is a significant amount, and must come first. Since the synagogue shootings, school officials are thinking about it more.
“There’s no way not to,” Entin said. “It’s how you walk down the street. It’s how you go to services on Saturday, it’s what happens every day as you watch the kids come into school and get off the bus, watching kids, any kids from any school get on the bus as you drive through your neighborhood. The world has changed.”
The school, he said, is “digging deep” to pay for security. Federal homeland security grants are hard to get, and private schools have access to a much more limited pool of state dollars than do public schools, Entin said.
“Non-public schools aren’t being treated the same as public schools,” Entin said. “We all have same threats, but we’re not giving equal footing for safety.”