During a solidarity march with the Jewish community of New York, which suffered numerous attacks during the week of Hanukkah last month, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state is spending $45 million this year on increased security for religious institutions and schools.
Cuomo made the announcement on Sunday during a speech before walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with tens of thousands of fellow march participants.
Anti-Semitic attacks took place in New York every day of the week of Hannukah last month, including a stabbing during a celebration at a rabbi’s home that wounded five people. The money for increased security at religious sites was earmarked last April as part of the state’s budget, due to the advocacy of multiple Jewish organizations as well as the New York State Catholic Conference, a spokesman for the conference told CNA.
While the earmarked security funds predated the recent Hannukah attacks, the allocation came after a year of increased violence against Jewish people throughout the United States, including the murder of 11 Jewish worshippers who were shot and killed by a white supremacist at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018.
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the synagogue shooting was the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the U.S. The year of 2018 was the third-highest year for anti-semitic incidents in the past four decades, and had a 99% increase in antisemitic incidents compared to 2015, according to the ADL.
Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, told CNA that Catholic and other religious schools and institutions can apply for the funds if they can demonstrate a security need.
Several Catholic schools in the state have already used the money to add security measures such as video surveillance and better-fortified entrances, Poust noted.
“We’re grateful that the governor and legislature recognize this need, particularly during this period of increased violence and hatred aimed at religious communities. We know that they take student safety seriously, and we’re working with our allies in the Jewish community to increase funding, given the current climate in New York.”
There is also a separate set of $15 million in state funds set aside for health, safety and security needs, which is apportioned proportionately to all independent and religious schools, instead of through an application process, Poust noted.
Poust said he is unaware of any current threats against Catholic schools or institutions in the state of New York, but noted that two Catholic churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn were vandalized last year.
St. Gerard Majella in Queens, New York was vandalized twice in September 2019, resulting in roughly $10,000 in damages to parish signs, plants, rosary stations and the sprinkler system.
In November 2019, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Williamsburg was vandalized by a man who pulled plants from the parish garden and threw them at the rectory, and knocked over a statue of St. Jude, which he left in the middle of the street. The man was arrested and charged with a hate crime, according to a report from the diocese.
Adriana Rodriguez, communications director for the Brooklyn diocese, told CNA that in both cases of vandalism, surveillance video was key in notifying the police about the incidents and in the arrest of the man in November. She added that she is unaware of any current threats against Catholic schools or institutions in the diocese.
According to the Wall Street Journal, religious leaders in the area of Monsey, the New York suburb where the Hanukkah stabbing occurred, appealed last week for even more security funding in order to protect yeshivas, Jewish educational institutions attended by some 30,000 students in the area.