Faygie Holt | Special to the JT
More than 30 Jewish synagogues, day schools and communal entities in the Baltimore region were awarded nonprofit security grants in 2022 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of an ongoing program to bolster security at institutions at high risk for terrorist attacks.
According to the Maryland Department of Emergency Management, which oversees the program locally, more than $8.7 million in federal homeland security grants were awarded this year to 68 nonprofit organizations in the state. Of that funding, some $6.7 million are going to nonprofits — a majority of them Jewish ones — in Baltimore and the surrounding environs.
“This funding provides much-needed financial support to nonprofit groups, which are part of the fabric of American life,” said Russ Strickland of the Maryland Department of Emergency Management. “In a time of increasing threats to members of faith-based communities, houses of worship and schools across the United States, these grants provide the funding to secure public spaces where Marylanders gather every day and will help prevent or minimize the consequences of any possible attack.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, 55 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Maryland in 2021, up from 47 incidents in 2020 and just 20 incidents in 2019.
Among the local organizations receiving funding this year is the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. According to its executive director, Jo Ann Windman, previous grant allocations have been vital to helping improve the safety and security of members. Previous funding has gone to improving lighting, camera and video surveillance, installing impact-resistant windows and window-tinting along, with helping to fund security personnel.
Without the nonprofit security grants, these security measures would have been “capital expenses that we would have had to spread out over many years and some we wouldn’t have been able to do, so it’s made a huge difference,” she said.
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, agreed that the federal grants have provided a critical lifeline for schools, synagogues and other nonprofits.
“Many of the enhanced security devices that are in place — ranging from cameras to doors to lockdown systems — are only there due to the support of the federal grants … ,” said Libit. “With a rising need for security amid surging anti-Semitism and safety concerns, these grants have been critical to institutions that frequently operate on tight budgets.”
Federal funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) has steadily increased in recent years — from $60 million in 2019 to $180 million in 2021 — but the annual need for grants has exceeded available funds. While funding for 2022 reached $250 million, grant requests totaled more than $447 million.
The NSGP is a competitive federal funding program established by Congress and administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within the Department of Homeland Security. Grants provide critical funding for security improvements at synagogues, community centers, schools, campus facilities and other Jewish centers of life across the United States.