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Homeland Security grants go to Jewish groups

NYHS is a recipient

By Janis Siegel
Special to the Reporter

Ten Seattle-area Jewish nonprofits, including Northwest Yeshiva High School on Mercer Island, have been awarded over $295,000 from the Department of Homeland Security. The agency’s Urban Areas Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant program will enable the organizations to do as much as they can in the coming year to shore up their emergency and security systems.

This is the second year that this grant program has been offered; however, this year’s allocation is slightly more than half of last year’s award for Washington state and a reduction from $25 million to $15 million nationwide.

Four groups applied directly to the state for the grant. The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, Congregation Ezra Bessaroth and Temple De Hirsch Sinai will each receive $75,000, and Congregation Beth Shalom will receive $70,313.

The Federation applied for the grant money on behalf of six smaller Jewish organizations in Seattle by submitting the paperwork for them in one bundle.

Along with NW Yeshiva the organizations include the National Council of Jewish Women, Temple Beth El in Tacoma, Seattle Jewish Community School, Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder and Camp Solomon Schecter.

“We took a number of steps to improve security which include replacing the locking systems on doors and the installation of better communications throughout the building,” said Rabbi Bernie Fox, the head of Northwest Yeshiva High School, on how the school has used the money received thus far.

To qualify, applicants needed to show they had been the target of a terrorist attack, have been threatened, or believe they are at risk due to their historic or symbolic value in the greater Seattle community. Organizations that are centers for recovery efforts were also eligible.

“The tragedy at the Jewish Federation in 2006 was a terrible reminder that we must all remain vigilant,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in a press release issued in late July acknowledging her continued support for the Jewish community’s needs.

Congressman Dave Reichert (R-Bellevue) sent award recipients early notification via e-mail in mid-August and also expressed his commitment to funding public safety needs in the community.

“Groups such as the Jewish Federation utilize federal funding to protect their participants, staff and others who are at risk,” said Reichert. ”With the abrupt end to the Haq trial recently, the issue still weighs on our minds and I’m pleased to see additional funding coming to our area to protect families and workers.”

Sixty at-risk urban areas were identified by DHS across the United States. Each region was categorized into two groups: high-risk and at-risk. Six were listed as Tier 1 and received over half of the $861 million Homeland Security Program budget for 2008.

The Seattle area is ranked in the second tier of at-risk communities.

Lauren Simonds, executive director for NCJW’s Seattle section, said that her organization’s grant would go toward installing an alarms system as well as video surveillance for its Shalom Bayit furniture bank for survivors of domestic abuse.

“We only have one-and-a-half staff members, and so we felt it was necessary to take some extra precautions, not just because we work with survivors of domestic abuse, but because we’re a Jewish organization and a women’s organization,” Simonds said.

Temple De Hirsch Sinai, possibly the largest Reform synagogue in the Northwest, operates two facilities — the original synagogue on Capitol Hill, an historic site adjacent to the downtown Seattle core, and a newer facility in Bellevue.

The synagogue has maintained a security presence for decades, according to executive director Larry Broder, but times continue to change.

“We’ve always had a relatively high and more visible public presence, providing a place for the Seattle community and the Jewish community to gather,” he explained from his office at the Seattle location. “But churches and schools have had attacks, and it’s prudent for everyone to seek whatever means that are available.”

TDHS has not had any specific threats, but its historical value and the preserved architectural elements of the original building’s façade has Broder persuaded that it’s always better to be proactive.

“It’s one of the oldest and most visible congregations in Seattle,” Broder added. “That factors into how the congregation is viewed and that raises its position in the community.”

Several groups are first-time recipients — like Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, a Sephardic Orthodox synagogue started over 100 years ago, located in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle. Congregation officials said they needed to look out for the well-being of their members and neighbors.

“We are a fairly urban synagogue, and I think all major Jewish organizations should be looking at their security,” said Reuben Owen, the synagogue’s president.

Owen, who is now retired, is new to the congregation and was the treasurer at Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation on Mercer Island last year.

“I think new eyes always provide a new perspective,” he added. “I think it’s very clear that the shooting at the Federation increased everyone’s concerns about security.”

Another first-time recipient, Congregation Beth Shalom in the Wedgwood neighborhood in North Seattle, took advantage of the available federal funds and the Federation’s offer of help in the application process.

“We don’t really have a budget for security,” said Tzachi Litov, the executive director at Beth Shalom. “I would never have been able to do this by myself.”

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