Religious groups on LI boost security
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Religious institutions on Long Island are taking a second look at their security protocols after a white supremacist gunman's rampage left seven dead at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin this month.
Leaders say they are trying to keep their congregations safe without jeopardizing the openness and spirituality of their celebrations.
At several synagogues with large congregations, officials said they will continue their practice of spending thousands of dollars on private guards while working closely with police during the heavily attended High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur next month. A Bay Shore mosque, for the first time, has hired private guards for Ramadan, while Sikh groups say they have boosted security.
Because most religious facilities are easily identifiable, lack restricted entry and can accommodate many people, they are particularly vulnerable to attack, according to a 2012 New York State Intelligence Center report.
"There should be a broad discussion of how to make sure religious spaces are safe and people of faith are free to worship, not just under the law but through protection from violence," said Cyrus McGoldrick, spokesman for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
New York has had its share of crimes against religious groups.
In May, a Queens man was indicted on a charge of allegedly firebombing six locations in Queens, including a Hindu temple and a mosque, last New Year's Day. The man reportedly told police that he hates Muslims and Arabs.
In June 2011, two Arab-Muslim immigrants were indicted after allegedly plotting to attack a Manhattan synagogue. And in October 2010, four men were found guilty of planting bombs outside two Bronx synagogues.
The average synagogue in New York spends $50,000 a year on security, including surveillance cameras, bomb-resistant glass and electronic locks, Rabbi Charles Klein, president of the New York Board of Rabbis and spiritual leader of the Merrick Jewish Centre-Congregation Ohr Torah recently told Newsday.
Susan Gold, executive director of Temple Chaverim in Plainview, estimates her synagogue, serving 540 families, spends $30,000 annually on upgrades and maintenance of security systems.
"We're mindful about what's going on in the world, but not hysterical," she said. "It's a fine line we walk."
Since 2009, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island has provided synagogues with free security guidance. "Though Jews have lived for many years openly and safely in the U.S., we know all it takes is one person who wants to cause havoc," said David Newman, council executive director.
"We'd rather be more safe than sorry. If that means spending a few extra dollars on security, then the Jewish community will do that," he said.
Gold says her temple relies on Nassau County police to patrol the exterior while private guards sweep the building and check entrants' identification.
Most security efforts are "not open or visible to the public," Newman said.
Private security hired
Muhammad Jabbar of Bay Shore, imam of Masjid Darul Quran, said his Bay Shore mosque beefed up previously "loose" security after the Wisconsin shooting. The mosque hired private guards -- estimated to cost $6,000 -- for the remainder of the fasting month of Ramadan, which ends Sunday.
"Having a guard at the door might be out of context [for some], but once you're in the sanctuary, you don't even notice it."
This year, 42 New York Jewish organizations received $3,419,184 from a $10 million Federal Emergency Management Agency program for emergency preparedness. The 8-year-old federal program assists nonprofits deemed to be at high risk of terrorist attacks.
Nicole Stickel, a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, said the FEMA program received 824 applications, 251 of which met the standards and advanced to a federal review panel.
Jewish institutions nationwide received the vast majority of grants awarded in 2012. The review panel did not receive any applications for Muslim or Sikh institutions from state administrative agencies.
Despite heightened security concerns, leaders say they do not want to give in to fear.
On Aug. 9, about 300 people attended an interfaith vigil in the Nassau County Legislative Chamber to honor the six Sikh worshippers shot to death Aug. 5 in Oak Creek, Wis., Bindra said.
He said the vigil symbolized the need for more awareness and appreciation of other religions and cultures.
"We feel very sad that in this day and age there's still so much ignorance about different religions," he said. "The more we appreciate and understand, the more we won't see a turban, yarmulke or hijab" as a cause for division.