Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park has been awarded a $75,000 grant from the federal department of Homeland Security to install landscaping features and improved locks and implement other security measures.
The synagogue was one of 20 nonprofit institutions in the state (all but one of them — St. Peter’s Healthcare System in New Brunswick — Jewish) to share the $1.45 million in funding.
The Orthodox congregation will use the funds to install electronic lock releases on doors, outside lighting and landscaping features, and security cameras, said Josh Fine, a board member who wrote the grant application. The total cost of the security project is $118,000; the shul, which received the maximum amount that can be awarded, has allocated the remaining $43,000 from its budget, he said.
The synagogue decided to apply for the grant based on recommendations made following a security assessment conducted by the Highland Park police last year, Fine said. The improvements are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“We applied for a number of reasons,” said Fine, citing as one that leaders of terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Al Qaida, have threatened Jews throughout the world.
Fine also pointed to testimony given before a Senate committee more than a year ago by Charles Allen, under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Allen called the Islamist terrorist attacks of November 2008 in Mumbai, India, a “model,” and said that among the lessons learned was that “terrorists vigorously seek weaknesses they can exploit.” Among the 174 people who died in Mumbai were a Lubavitcher rabbi and his wife, who were killed when the terrorists stormed the Nariman Chabad Jewish Center.
“For all these reasons we wanted to strengthen the security around our shul,” said Fine.
“The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County has worked extensively for the past nine years with our office in Washington, DC, to lobby for these security grants for our Jewish institutions,” said Gerrie Bamira, federation executive director.
The awarding of the grant money was announced last month by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
“These federal resources will help to ensure New Jersey communities can gather together safely,” said Lautenberg in a press release. “Many organizations fear for the safety of their members, but lack sufficient funds to take additional security measures. This investment will allow nonprofits to secure their facilities and help to prevent an act of terrorism.”
Among the other Middlesex County Jewish institutions that received such homeland security grants during the last several years are the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth and the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison.