St. Louis Jewish institutions receive $370,000 in Homeland Security grants

By Eric Berger, Staff writer

The Department of Homeland Security has provided $370,000 in security grants to six local Jewish organizations and synagogues. 

The money from the Nonprofit Security Grants Program can be used for security training or improvements to security infrastructure.

The St. Louis groups receiving grants, announced in a news release last Thursday by Rep. William Lacy Clay’s office, are: 

• Central Reform Congregation – $75,000

• Congregation Temple Israel – $75,000

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• Jewish Federation of St. Louis – $30,000

• Missouri Torah Institute – $75,000

• Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School – $75,000

• The Gladys & Henry Crown Center – $40,000.

“There regrettably are regular threats made against major Jewish institutions, and the congressman’s wish is for everyone to be able to worship in peace and security,” said Steve Engelhardt, communications director for Clay, who wrote letters of support for the Jewish institutions, Engelhardt said.

The announcement comes after a spate of terrorist attacks around the world and several scares in the local Jewish community over the last year. 

In February, the staff at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School evacuated the building in Creve Coeur after receiving a bomb threat. A couple weeks later, two people entered the Jewish Community Center Millstone Campus and asked suspicious questions to a security guard at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. The man said he was carrying a “concealed weapon”; video footage reviewed later showed the couple had been videotaping the campus. 

The federal government started the nonprofit grants program 10 years ago and has since provided more than $164 million to Jewish schools, synagogues and other nonprofits. The funding is targeted at nonprofits that are at a high risk of terrorist attack and located within particular urban areas, according to the Department of Homeland Security website. 

In previous years, much of the money has gone towards Jewish groups, according to a report in the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper. From 2007 to 2010, 73.7 percent of the 994 grants went to Jewish groups. In 2014, Jewish groups received 94 percent of $13 million allocated to nonprofits, according to the Jewish Exponent.

The department provided $20 million to nonprofits for fiscal year 2016. The local Jewish groups were the only organizations in Missouri to receive grants this year, according to the department. 

Central Reform Congregation executive director Nancy Weigley said the grant will allow the Central West End synagogue to invest in projects that had been on hold because they were expensive. The synagogue plans to use the money to improve lighting in the parking lot and the camera system around the building. She said the improvements will hopefully make congregants “feel a little safer.”

Other local Jewish leaders either did not comment or did not provide specifics about what they planned to use the money for citing security concerns.

Jewish Federation of St. Louis hosted a workshop in March to provide organizations with guidance on how to apply for the grants. 

“It enhances the security posture of the Jewish community in St. Louis” and allows groups to “feel more comfortable in our homes,” said Debbie Schultz, treasurer of Congregation Temple Israel. 

Federation said in a statement that it was honored to receive the grant.

“We look forward to future partnerships with organizations that will allow greater funds to be directed to necessary areas of the Jewish community,” the statement read.