Just over a week ago, a 19-year-old man carrying a semi-automatic rifle walked through the front entrance of a Jewish synagogue in Poway, California, and indiscriminately opened fire on those inside. The California attack occurred exactly six months after 11 people were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest assault on Jews in U.S. history.
The Chabad of Poway synagogue applied for a federal grant to install gates and more secure doors at the location where the shooter entered the synagogue to better protect that area. While a $150,000 grant had been approved last September, bureaucratic regulations delayed the actual award until late March.
“Obviously we did not have a chance to start using the funds yet,” Rabbi Simcha Backman, who oversees security grants for the 207 Chabad institutions across California, told The Associated Press.
After a gunman shot and killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, rabbis of California’s Chabad organization, including the Poway synagogue, began asking members who were trained law enforcement professionals to carry their weapons at services.
The congregation of the Poway synagogue received training from the city of Poway on how to respond to an active shooter, and the rabbi applied for a concealed carry permit. The synagogue is now considering asking authorities to allow the use of some of the $150,000 federal grant to hire security guards.
While the separation of church and state to avoid the government supporting one religious institution over another was a key element of this country’s foundation, the lines are blurring as the need for the government to protect its citizens has become increasingly important.
It’s no longer a question of taxpayer dollars being used to bolster security at a synagogue or a church — any synagogue or any church — it’s become the unfortunate but legitimate need to spend taxpayer dollars to protect the lives of citizens who are attending the church of their choice.
Two days after the shooting at Poway, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to budget $15 million — a 30-fold increase over the $500,000 budgeted for the current year — to increase security for religious institutions and other vulnerable nonprofits.
California has spent $4.5 million since 2015 to augment the federal grant program created after the 2001 terrorist attacks, including $2 million in 2017. Lawmakers and previous California governor Jerry Brown reduced the funding to $500,000 for the current fiscal year.
“The unfortunate reality is that even in houses of worship, thoughts and prayers won’t keep us safe,” said California Democratic Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel. “We need more than thoughts and prayers. We need real security, and we need the state to step up and play a role in that.”
That is truly an “unfortunate reality.” While state and federal dollars will provide added security, those dollars do nothing to understand and address the growing hatred that marks a decline of our society.
When will we start?