As she waited to testify at a March 21 State Senate hearing in Newark, Leslie Dannin Rosenthal’s cell phone lit up with a set of urgent messages: Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston had become the latest Jewish institution to be terrorized by a bomb threat.
“I thought ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” she told NJJN.
Dannin Rosenthal, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, was about to appear before the Budget and Appropriations Committee to speak on behalf of the New Jersey Nonprofit Security Grant Pilot Program, which appropriates $1 million a year for each of the next three fiscal years. When she started speaking, she tossed aside her prepared remarks and informed the members of the committee of this latest assault on the Jewish community “in real time.”
“I described the situation in Livingston that morning and what it was like to be threatened merely for exercising in a gym or for sending your child off to a Jewish preschool,” she said. “While the Jewish community is resilient and will take care of itself, we really need the state’s help.”
Accompanying Dannin Rosenthal at the hearing was Linda Scherzer, director of the federation’s Community Relations Committee. “Without a doubt the fact that a synagogue and its preschool had just been evacuated an hour before Leslie testified gave a much greater urgency to our request,” she said.
As Dannin Rosenthal spoke, she observed Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Dist. 36) nodding his head to indicate that he, too, was aware that the synagogue and its preschool were being evacuated, and that the town’s fire and police departments were beginning their investigation.
Seventy-five minutes after the phone call, the threat was deemed unfounded and people returned to the synagogue. Two days later, Israeli police arrested a 19-year-old man with dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship for calling in hundreds of threats to Jewish institutions in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand — including eight in New Jersey.
Having visited the South two weeks previously on the federation’s Women’s Philanthropy department’s mission to landmarks of the civil rights era, Dannin Rosenthal said learning more about how African-Americans asserted their demands for freedom reinforced “how important it is that our communities stand up for ourselves and each other.”
If and when the Budget and Appropriations Committee approves the measure, it will be voted on by the full Senate. Neither of the dates of those votes have been set, but the full Assembly approved the bill on March 23 by a vote of 61 to 10, with three abstentions.
While the subcommittee was hearing testimony in Newark, Gov. Chris Christie announced a $1 million Nonprofit Security Grant Program to increase protection at JCCs, houses of worship, federation offices, and other community institutions in nine South Jersey counties. Gordon Haas, president of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, called the governor’s act “welcome news.” The monies will be awarded by the end of the 2017 fiscal year in June, but Haas said the State Association hopes to secure a grant for 2018 that will be open to all counties in New Jersey.
The state funds, earmarked for sites in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Salem, and Warren counties, are being made available to parts of the state that are not eligible under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security guidelines for federal grant monies. They have been denied such funds because the U.S. Office of Management and Budget does not consider them to be areas of high vulnerability.