Thirty-one nonprofit organizations in the Washington, D.C., area, including 14 synagogues and eight hospitals, have received U.S. aid ranging from $26,000 to $100,000 to fortify their facilities under an anti-terrorism program that has divided Jewish leaders and drawn criticism from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Washington Post reports. The grants are part of a $25 million nationwide program that Congress approved last year and recently renewed for fiscal 2006 to protect nonprofit groups deemed highly vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
The Jewish community has long been security conscious because of terrorist attacks abroad on synagogues and Jewish centers. ,The executive board of the Union for Reform Judaism advised Reform temples not to apply for the funds, calling them “a serious violation of church-state separation” and said the $25 million “could have been better used beefing up first responders and police protection in high-risk areas.” The Department of Homeland Security said the program is unnecessary and that the department tried unsuccessfully to have the money taken out of its 2006 budget. State and city officials already had the authority to award their federal homeland security money to nonprofit groups, including religious ones, and creation of the fund forced officials to set up a new disbursement system.