Rabbi Jason Rodich stands outside the entrance to Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco as an unarmed guard screens people coming into the building, July 2019. Emanu-El is one of 15 local Jewish organizations to receive new federal funding to enhance security. (Photo/Sue Barnett)
Rabbi Jason Rodich stands outside the entrance to Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco as an unarmed guard screens people coming into the building, July 2019. Emanu-El is one of 15 local Jewish organizations to receive new federal funding to enhance security. (Photo/Sue Barnett)

Amid rising antisemitism, 15 Bay Area Jewish orgs get $2 million in federal security grants

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Ten Bay Area synagogues and five other Jewish nonprofits have received money from the federal government to improve their security and help make them less vulnerable against antisemitic attacks.

The grant allocations, announced Sept. 14, will fund measures that support physical security enhancements at nonprofit organizations that are at a “high risk of a terrorist attack,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which operates the program.

Rafael Brinner
Rafael Brinner

Those include many synagogues that were built “at times when we were not worried about the threats we’re worried about today,” said Rafi Brinner, director of community security at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

According to Brinner, 15 Bay Area Jewish organizations received grants that totaled more than $2 million. The Federation assisted nine organizations in applying, a process that requires security assessments and a detailed plan. All received funding, including three for the first time — a great result, Brinner said.

“We’re impressed that we got 100 percent of the ones we supported,” he said.

The nine nonprofits assisted by the Federation were Congregations Beth Emek (Pleasanton), Kol Shofar (Tiburon), Peninsula Sinai (Foster City), Beth Am (Los Altos Hills), Beth David (Saratoga) and Beth Jacob (Redwood City), plus the Oshman Family JCC (Palo Alto), Contra Costa Jewish Day School (Lafayette) and Chabad North Peninsula (San Mateo).

The other entities receiving grants were the Chabad at UC Berkeley, Chabad of the East Bay, Temple Beth El/Santa Cruz JCC, Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, the Reutlinger Community for senior living in Danville and URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa.

With antisemitic hate incidents on the rise, security is on everyone’s mind.

Brinner said synagogues designed in the 1950s and 1960s often have an open, ranch-style plan. Architects, rabbis and directors at that time wanted the congregants to be able to mingle freely, have many ways in and out of the building, and take advantage of the California sunshine.

“Let’s have lots of windows! Entire glass fronts!” Brinner said.

But those features make buildings a security risk today. While some amount of what is known as “facility hardening” can be done to make the physical structures more secure, Brinner said the Federation also works with organizations that are planning renovations or new buildings.

Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon
Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon is one of the local grant recipients.

“It’s a lot easier to plan it from the start than to tack it on after,” he said.

The federal government isn’t the only source of funding for security. In 2021, California drastically increased the amount of money for security grants, and a new state bill that extends the program was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 18.

Brinner currently is working on grant applications for the California funds; they are due at the end of October. Enough help is needed that he’s hired a consultant.

“We’re working with over 20 organizations in the current [state grant] round, about a third of whom have never received a federal or state nonprofit security grant,” he said in an email to J.

The Federation provides workshops and assessments in which Brinner and his team help organizations figure out their security needs and put together the detailed grant application. That includes “conducting on-site assessments, identifying and prioritizing security improvements, detailing costs and specifications, and developing compelling narratives for grant applications,” Brinner said.

He said the Federation is also cooperating with Black and Asian organizations on security education as part of an interfaith outreach. While Jewish schools, synagogues and nonprofits are in the sad position of having had a long history of countering attacks, at least the best practices can be shared.

“It’s broader than just the Jewish community,” Brinner noted. “We can share our lessons learned.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.