Pa. lawmakers extend grant program protecting synagogues, houses of worship

Thursday Morning Coffee: With antisemitic attacks on the rise, Gov. Tom Wolf is reviewing the bill, a spokesperson said

By: - November 3, 2022 7:09 am

The Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

With antisemitic attacks and rhetoric on the rise, Pennsylvania’s Jewish community says it welcomes the Legislature’s recent vote to grant a five-year extension to a state grant program that helps synagogues, houses of worship, and other nonprofits pay for security improvements.

Lawmakers sent the bill to Gov. Tom Wolf on Oct. 27 — the fourth anniversary of the deadly shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, which left 11 people dead.

State officials already have doled out $20 million in funding through the three-year-old Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which is administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency.

The program was set to run through 2024. It will now run until 2029 under the extension approved by the the General Assembly.

In a statement, the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition thanked lawmakers for their vote, even as the advocacy group stressed that the demand for funds has “surpassed all expectations,” noting that “need remains strong with only 25 percent of applicants being awarded grants to date.”

The unanimous House and Senate votes for the extension “demonstrates the importance of securing our religious and communal facilities and shows that Pennsylvania’s political leaders are united in fighting hate,” the Jewish federation said in its statement.

On Wednesday, a Wolf administration spokesperson told the Capital-Star that the Democratic governor was reviewing the bill. A decision could come as soon as today.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

According to the Anti-Defamation League antisemitic attacks hit an all-time high in 2019, and remained at historically high levels in 2020CNN reported earlier this week.

Recent incidents, including the antisemitic remarks by rapper Ye (Kanye West), and the furor surrounding former President Donald Trump’s remarks last month that were critical of American Jews, only has served to heighten tensions.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO, responded to Trump’s comments on Twitter, saying, “we don’t need the former president, who curries favor with extremists and antisemites, to lecture us about the US-Israel relationship.”

“This ‘Jewsplaining’ is insulting and disgusting,” he added, according to CBS News.

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, speaks at a joint session to honor the Tree of Life victims. (Courtesy Pa. House Democrats)

Jewish leaders have long looked at incidents of antisemitic hate as a leading indicator for the normalization of other kinds of hate crime, arguing that the tacit acceptance of attacks on one group opens the door to attacks on others.

Even though Jews make up only 2 percent of the nation’s population (and 0.2 percent of the global population), hate crimes targeting Jewish communities made up more than half of the reported religious-based crimes last year, according to data compiled by the website FacingHistory.org, which provides discussion resources to teachers.

In Pennsylvania, Jewish leaders and lawmakers have condemned Republican governor nominee Doug Mastriano’s ties to extremist groups, and his remarks about Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish, according to the Washington Post.

“Many GOP political figures throughout the country seem to believe that they can just quietly ignore the normalization of hate within their party. They are wrong” Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Alleghenytweeted earlier this week.

Frankel, who is Jewish, represents the Pittsburgh neighborhood that is home to Tree of Life. 

“If you refuse to call out anti-Semites and racists and homophobes and xenophobes, then you are one of them,” Frankel tweeted.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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