The battle against hate and antisemitism has seemed never-ending. There have been hateful words spoken and written across Nassau County, and numerous discoveries of images such as swastikas.
There has been graffiti in Seaford parks, remarks at Rockville Centre board meetings and in East Meadow schools, and antisemitic flyers distributed in Rockville Centre, Oceanside and Long Beach. The words and images have been impossible to ignore.
To try to mitigate the problem, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced last week, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, more than $51 million in grants to strengthen safety and security measures at nonprofit, community-based organizations that risk being the victims of hate crimes because of their ideology, beliefs or mission. It is the largest amount of money ever made available by the state’s Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes grant program. Created in 2017, the program provides funding for the effort to prevent hate crimes against houses of worship, nonprofit civic centers, cultural museums, daycare centers, and other organizations.
Rabbi Eli Goodman, of Chabad of the Beaches in Long Beach, said the synagogue received a state grant in 2020 for about $50,000 for the same purpose. It has been working to implement new safety and security measures.
“At the end of the day, I think these grants are vital,” Goodman said. “In today’s climate, because we see what’s going on, places of religious worship are becoming increasing targets. There’s no doubt about it.”
The funding Hochul promised can be used for interior and exterior security improvements including lighting, locks, alarms, panic buttons, fencing, barriers, access controls, shatter-resistant glass and blast-resistant film and public address systems. It can be used for first-time security-bolstering efforts as well.
Goodman said that there are security guards at all of the synagogue’s events, which makes congregants feel safer. If any of them don’t feel as though a guard is doing enough, they let Goodman know. All of the congregants, he said, are very aware of potential problems and concerned about their safety.
“There are so many people that do go to places of worship, and therefore I think if people don’t feel safe at these places, it will have a real effect on the fabric of our society,” he said. “So I think it’s vital,” he added of the funding, “and I think the government realizes the importance of it. Hopefully it’s given out in a fair manner, and to the places that need it most.”
Who the grant money will go to has yet to be determined.
In August of 2021, Chabad of the Beaches was vandalized. Its ark was damaged, and two Torahs and other religious items were stolen. One of the Torahs was replaced last July, and the other will be replaced next month.
“Hate has absolutely no place in our state, and we will continue to do whatever it takes to make sure every New Yorker is safe from baseless violence that stems from prejudice,” Hochul said at last week’s announcement. “This is a historic investment in the communities that need our help the most, and with these funds, New York’s most at-risk organizations will be able to invest in the security measures they need to stay safe.”
In December 2022, Hochul launched a statewide Hate and Bias Prevention Unit within the state Division of Human Rights. The unit quickly mobilizes to support communities where a hate or bias incident occurs, and has organized anti-bias councils in each region of the state. The councils are chaired by Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado.
In May, Hochul convened the state’s inaugural Unity Summit, bringing together 500 representatives of community organizations, law enforcement, and faith groups to discuss ways to work together to prevent future acts of hate.
“New York has always served as a safe haven for folks from all walks of life, and today’s announcement further demonstrates our steadfast commitment in ensuring our state remains one of tolerance and acceptance,” Delgado said last week. “Our administration will always uphold the values that define us as New Yorkers, and as chair of the Hate and Bias Prevention Unit, I am especially proud of this critical investment.”
Rabbi Jack Zanerhaft, of Temple Emanu-El of Long Beach, said he believes hate crimes are much more than acts against the Jewish community. Hate, he said, is directed toward all people and groups, as has been the case throughout history. Regardless, he said he believes the funding from Albany can help.
“It’s definitely an important step in combating antisemitism, and really all forms of discrimination and hatred,” Zanerhaft said. “Resources always help, but I think, equally as important is the acknowledgement of the need to address it’s not just an issue of Jewish hatred or anti-Israel sentiment. It’s so much bigger.”
The City Council last month adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”