Places like Pittsburgh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka are now synonymous with the memory and aftermath of attacks on houses of worship. Most recently, the attack on the Chabad of Poway Congregation in California sent shock waves across the country. Synagogues, yeshivos and Jewish community centers — and similar locations of other faiths — are determined to address the need to upgrade security.
New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch has called on Mayor de Blasio to increase city funding for security at houses of worship across New York City. To highlight the demand for this request, the councilman, who chairs the Council’s Jewish caucus, organized an interfaith rally on Tuesday that was attended by dozens of faith and community leaders.
“New Yorkers of faith deserve to be safe as they worship — it’s as simple as that,” said Councilmember Deutsch. “Houses of worship need a layer of protection to keep congregants safe, such as an armed guard. Every time a tragedy occurs, every city and state leader rushes to the nearest house of worship to extend thoughts and prayers to the victims — but where will these leaders be now, as we ask them to step up proactively and fund security?”
Councilmember Kalman Yeger plans to introduce a bill this week that he and Councilmember Deutsch are co-sponsoring. “We know that the mayor cares deeply about our security. Our bill will allow any house of worship to hire a private security guard, submit for reimbursement, and have the City pay the bill. This is our City and our money, and safety in our houses of worship is our most fundamental right,” said Councilmember Yeger.
This bill comes at a time when hate crimes against houses of worship and identifiably religious individuals have become a recurring topic in the headlines. Michael S. Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, told Hamodia, “At this time, our houses of worship are not in need of first responders. What is vitally needed are ‘First Protectors.’”
Josh Mehlman, chairman of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition (FJCC), also spoke to Hamodia. “With over 250 shuls and yeshivos in the greater Flatbush community, we are pleased that the councilmembers in our district are taking the initiative and leadership roles necessary to ensure that every shul in the city is secured,” he said.
Other councilmembers in attendance to support this effort were Laurie Cumbo, Mathieu Eugene, Mark Treyger and Ruben Diaz Sr. Councilmember Eugene told Hamodia, “Worshipping and practicing one’s religion is based on the fundamental principles of the United States of America. It is your right to practice your religion safely. It is our moral responsibility, as government, to protect those cardinal rules.”
In solidarity with the Jewish community was Kashif Hussain of the Pakistani American Youth Society. “It’s the voice of people that have been building for a long time. This isn’t something political. We need to be proactive, as opposed to being reactive.”
Groups with representatives in attendance included UJA-Federation of New York, Catholic Archdioceses, the Jewish Community Relations Council of NY, the NYPD Muslim Officers Society, Catholic Dioceses of Brooklyn, the Orthodox Union, the Pakistani American Youth Society, Agudath Israel of America and the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition.
“Together, we must proactively protect our most vulnerable locations from the kind of attacks we are witnessing across the globe,” said Chaskel Bennett, co-founder of the FJCC.