Jeff Finkelstein, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, speaks during a news conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday, 1/27/22 (screen capture).
Lawmakers from the House and Senate joined Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh on Thursday, as the nation and world observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day, to announce a new round of state funding for a program intended to keep marginalized and vulnerable communities safe from harm.
“You all stepped up. You realized that our community, and all marginalized communities, need help,” Jeff Finkelstein, the CEO of Pittsburgh Jewish Federation, said at a news conference.
More than three years after the attacks at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 people dead, and amid a rise in anti-Semitic attacks and attacks on other minority communities nationwide, the money is more necessary than ever, the leaders and advocates said Thursday. Earlier this month, an English national was shot dead by police in Texas after he laid siege to a synagogue there.
“As I was at the JCC this [Thursday] morning and got my workout in, it was on my mind what happened three years ago and in Texas,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, a Jewish lawmaker whose district includes Tree of Life. “It’s always on your mind.”
The $4.5 million in funding, administered through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency, underwrites an array of security enhancements, including the purchase of metal detectors and surveillance equipment, electronic locks and deadbolts, and emergency communications equipment, according to a statement. Nonprofit groups that are vulnerable to hate and bias crimes according to the FBI’s definition are eligible for the money.
“Folks should be able to gather, to worship, to play without fear of violence targeted at them because of who they love, their faith or their ethnicity,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, whose district includes Pittsburgh’s traditionally Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood, said in a statement. “I wish we didn’t need these grants; I wish our community organizations were safe from acts of hate – but we’ve seen that’s not the case. This grant program has helped and will continue to help groups protect themselves and prevent violence. I’ll continue to fight for its funding as long as it’s needed.”
With the start of the 2022-23 budget season just weeks away, Costa, joined by Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, who also attended Thursday’s news conference, said he not only hoped to secure a funding increase for the grants during the fiscal year that starts July 1, but also to make the grants a permanent part of the state’s annual spending plan.
Ward, the No. 2 Republican leader in the state Senate, joined Costa at a Capitol news conference on Wednesday where legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced a bipartisan agreement to spend $225 million in federal pandemic relief money on aid to front-line healthcare workers.
“This is the second day in a row that Jay and I have stood together bipartisanly,” Ward quipped to laughter from the audience. “We’re going to start scaring people.”
Ward said she agreed with Costa’s call to make the grant funding permanent, after she’d seen so many groups seeking assistance.
“Hate is strong and we need to fight back,” she said. ” … We should increase funding so that people who worship feel safe, so that kids in our schools feel safe.”
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