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NY State grant helps Jewish schools, centers improve security

Students display signs as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

Students display signs as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo attends graduation at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in Lawrence in June, when he announced funding for security against hate crimes.   Credit: Jeff Bachner

Local Jewish organizations said Monday they have been working to improve security and that a grant announced in June is even more important to help them continue that work in the wake of the attack in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $2.1 million in grants to Jewish schools and synagogues on Long Island in June, and while the money has not arrived yet, Jewish institutions are already moving ahead with their security improvements.

“It’s a very welcome program. We are hoping for more of it,” said Richard Hagler, executive director of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, which was approved for $150,000.

Enhanced security is “of paramount concern,” he said. “Pittsburgh just makes us more aware of it.”

Cuomo announced the Long Island part of the program at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway in Lawrence, where he said, “We want every student, every teacher to know that when they come to school they are safe, that a school is a sanctuary, that they are protected.”

The Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes Grant Program covers 45 private schools, day care centers and cultural museums on Long Island. Leaders of the institutions said the state is processing their papers, and they hope to receive the grant money soon.

They are required to spend the money first, and then be reimbursed.

At the Chabad Lubavitch Chai Center in Dix Hills, leaders have used the expected grant money to upgrade cameras to higher resolution models that can focus clearly on a person’s face or a license plate, said Rabbi Yakov Saacks. 

The Orthodox synagogue has also replaced many of its windows with shatterproof material that stops any projectile traveling up to 150 mph, he said. This could stop someone armed with rocks, bricks or a baseball bat, for instance, he said. 

The Chai Center received a $50,000 grant from Cuomo’s program and hopes for more. Saacks would like to install the kind of double-door system common in some jewelry stores, for instance, so staff could stop a perpetrator from entering or leaving.

He also wants to get an impenetrable door for the front of the synagogue that would cost about $35,000.

“All houses of worship need protection,” Saacks said. “Jewish houses of worship are clearly more of a target.”

Saacks reluctantly decided he had to hire armed guards several months ago. “I have a real problem with it,” Saacks said. “Any religious institution that has to have armed security, it’s really not freedom of religion, is it?”

The Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview was approved for about $90,000 through the program and has used the anticipated funds to take measures such as cutting down trees and overgrowth around its buildings that might help an attacker hide, said CEO Rick Lewis.

The center has also been taking other steps in “target hardening” — making it more difficult for an attacker to access a building — by strengthening doors and windows and putting in more cameras, he said.

At the Hebrew Academy in Five Towns, which received a $150,000 grant, leaders have been significantly upgrading security for about a decade, including hiring guards who are stationed at all entrances, said Ari Solomon, the K-12 school’s executive director.

The guards are “making sure those that are here are supposed to be here,” Solomon said.

The state funds cannot be used to pay guards, but Hagler and others said they hope that changes.

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