Min synagogues ‘anti-Semitism tax’ – WSJ

For the most part, serving on the board of my synagogue has not involved dramatic decisions. Usually we discuss routine matters, such as how to pay for repairs to the house we provide to our rabbis. During the pandemic, we discussed whether we should open the kindergarten or repay the parents’ payments. But over the last many years, a more worrying issue has appeared on our agenda. I call it the anti-Semitism tax.

More than 5% of our budget is now devoted to security to protect the congregation. That’s more than $ 150,000 a year to prevent tragedies like the deadly attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 or the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, in January. We had long used funds to hire officers without a guard for the high holidays to direct the traffic, but it is much more serious.

Every Jewish congregation is, as they say in the accounts, a tub on its own bottom. There is no diocese or sanhedrin to provide financial support. Membership fee keeps the light on. Security spending comes at the expense of other budget items: building repairs, new books for the library or lower education for preschool parents, a key source for the new members we need to thrive as a community of believers. Ours is a reasonably well-off congregation, but those who do not face difficult choices.

“Assemblies have had to invest in both physical infrastructure and ongoing security personnel and processes,” notes Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, who heads the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “Synagogues, of course, would rather spend on our core functions such as study, worship, volunteering, and community building.”

We Jews are hardly the only religious people in danger. There have been numerous shootings at religious sites in recent years, most notably at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, (nine dead), First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas (26 dead) and the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. (six dead). About 80% of Protestant pastors say they have some security measures in place, according to a 2019 Lifeway Research survey.

But as I reviewed the budgets of the major Protestant churches in my own community, I found no security line items at a distance on par with those in my synagogue. Perhaps we are more scared because of our history, but Jewish society has been the biggest target of religiously based hate crimes in the United States since official reporting began more than a quarter of a century ago. The numbers have risen in recent years.

The government recognizes that houses of worship in general can be targets of attack. Federal Emergency Management Agency grants are available for purposes such as “hardening” the perimeter of a building. The new federal Nonprofit Security Grant program allows such assistance to any “vulnerable” nonprofit – a bend to the constitutional establishment clause – and Congress allocated $ 180 million in 2021 for safeguard measures.

But as a minor synagogue official, I find this less than reassuring. I am first and foremost annoyed by the message sent by the synagogue as a fortress. We risk giving potential new members the impression of participating shul is dangerous.

I am also worried about contacting the government at all. Historically, Jewish communities have been affectionately self-reliant, whether in Jerusalem, Warsaw or Shanghai – even in times of far greater risk than today. Seeking state aid brings implicit complications. Will we only be safe this year with budget surpluses? Will tensions arise when people from different faiths compete for funds? There are already more grant applicants than grants. By 2021, less than half of all nonprofit security grant applications received funding.

We Jews have never taken government wisdom or good judgment for granted. Every week we pray a special prayer for our government and ask God to teach officials “insight from your Torah” so that “peace and security can remain in our midst.” Note the use of “can”. The perceived need for such prayer shows that we take nothing for granted.

Still, for me, when it came to a vote, mine was a good bid on the budget that included security spending. Despite the Talmudic mindset above, I found that I could not be the one to vote no.

Mr. Husock is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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