Most of the $60 million the federal government provides for security upgrades for nonprofit groups last year went to Jewish organizations in hopes of preventing an attack like last week’s at a San Diego synagogue.
“We have to think strategically, not out of fear, but from a position of how can we best protect our places of worship,” said Yael Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. “[But] are we going to stop a mass terror attack, God forbid? No.”
The Chabad of Poway in San Diego had been approved for a $150,000 federal grant for security improvements in October and received the funds in late March, The Associated Press reported Thursday. The synagogue, where a gunman fatally shot two worshippers Saturday, had not yet used the funds.
Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Department of Homeland Security has provided grants for nonprofit organizations to upgrade their security, ranging from training personnel to adding surveillance cameras, doors, locks and gates.
Nonprofit grant recipients have ranged from a zoo in Rhode Island to an Indianapolis children’s museum, but most of the funds go to religious organizations — from Catholic Charities in Guam to an Islamic center in suburban Seattle. Jewish groups — synagogues, camps, schools — account for the majority of the funding, amid a rise in anti-Semitism in the U.S.
“Most of my life, when I lived in America, we didn’t even have an unarmed guard at the door,” said Ms. Eckstein, who moved to Israel 15 years ago. “We didn’t lock the synagogue.”
She says the security situation at American synagogues today resembles that of Israel, “which is 24/7” vigilance.
Representatives for grant recipients declined queries and requests for comment.
A DHS spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Security experts say that hardening religious facilities — mosques, churches, temples and synagogues — involves the same challenges and tools as secular buildings.
“A threat gets to a church the same way you did,” said Dwayne Harris, president of Full Armor Church, a security contractor in Tennessee who has worked with many denominational churches within the Assembly of God community.
He offers basic suggestions such as cameras in sanctuaries, limiting entry points and armed guards when necessary, though he scoffs at images of security details toting rifles as they prowl the rear of a church. He says that only 1 in 4 churches has any security measures in place.
He said the strongest deterrent is posting someone at an entryway.
“If we’re losing the environment of who we are to safety, then you’re forfeiting what you’re intended to do,” Mr. Harris said.
Dilshad Fakroddin, spokeswoman for the Islamic Community Center of Potomac, Maryland, said she feels safe — relieved, even — when she walks in and sees the security officer outside her mosque.
“It’s as normal as seeing police outside of a school or even in schools,” said Ms. Fakroddin, “We have a saying in Islam, ‘Trust in God, but tie your camel.”
Last year, her organization applied for and received a $20,000 DHS grant that has added surveillance for Friday prayers.
“We searched for it [funding] because there’s no safe space today,” said Ms. Fakroddin. “As incidents were increasing in the world at-large, our board decided we should do something extra, really take precaution for the safety of our people.”