By Brenda Flanagan
“I have four children here. And it’s on our minds: how do we keep our children as safe as possible?” asked Rabbi Isaac Kagan.
Protecting the kids. That’s why this Jewish day school in Clifton applied for a federal security grant to install surveillance cameras and beef up the perimeter, where gates don’t completely close. Kagan says they want to strike a balance, not go to extremes.
“One parent mentioned something about putting up barbed wires, and somehow providing guns for certain staff members in certain places. So we don’t want to go that route. We want it to be a school. But at the same time, there’s plenty that we can do that will fortify this structure,” Kagan said.
And the school got $72,000 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help pay for it. Clifton Cheder’s among 58 New Jersey nonprofits — most of them Jewish — sharing $4.3 million in federal security grants this year. That’s more than double last year’s $1.9 million awarded to 27 groups. New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security helps them fine-tune grant applications.
“Showing that there’s a threat against their facilities or in their faith in general. Showing that there are gaps in security in their facility, so we require them to do a facility assessment to understand sort of from the outside in what their vulnerabilities and gaps are,” said New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Deputy Director Steven Gutkin.
For the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, it’s the surveillance camera. They got a $75,000 grant.
“For us, the things is without the help of the government, we couldn’t pull this off, because the expense is incredible. I think in the end the government knows they’re saving money by making our institutions more secure,” said Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey CEO Jason Shames.
Shames is well aware the Anti-Defamation League logged 137 reported anti-Semitic incidents in Jersey last year. This May, a jury convicted Lodi resident Anthony Graziano of terrorism for firebombing a Rutherford rabbi’s home in 2012 after buying the ingredients at a local Walmart. The hate crime rattled Shames and Jewish congregations across the state.
“They targeted this rabbi and his family. When you throw a Molotov cocktail into a bedroom, that’s taking it to a whole new extreme level,” Shames said.
The federation remains hyper-vigilant of their surroundings.
“Why is that truck parked across the street? Whose car is that? So you get a couple of minutes where the adrenaline kind of rushes through. And afterwards you look back and say to yourself, ‘Wow, I know I reacted with DEFCON 5.’ And thank God none of it has been serious,” Shames said.
A security camera upgrade isn’t cheap. But these security grants to buy enhanced safety and some peace of mind.