We took office as Chair and Secretary of The Jewish Federations of North America mere weeks before the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue building in Pittsburgh. We served through the shooting in San Diego; the attacks in Poway, Monsey, Jersey City and Halle, Germany; the increase in threats online during the COVID-19 pandemic; the civil unrest that impacted our country since last summer; and of course, the breaching of the U.S. Capitol that included attackers clearly identified with antisemitic organizations and movements. It is clear to us that responding to the security challenges facing our communities is a defining issue of our time in leadership.
Federations have been preparing for this moment for years. There are now over 40 Community Security Initiatives led by local Federations. Collectively, Federations are spending over $30M per year on security for their communities. Nearly two decades ago, we created the Secure Community Network (SCN) to provide us with expertise on safety and security, to coordinate directly with federal law enforcement, and develop best practices to support local efforts. Over 16 years ago, the advocacy efforts of Federations helped create the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which this year will distribute a record $180M in grants to nonprofit agencies and houses of worship to upgrade the physical security of their facilities.
These efforts are encouraging. But there is much more to do. And that’s why we have launched LiveSecure, our initiative to broaden and deepen the security umbrella for the communities we serve. LiveSecure will include a number of interrelated efforts. Most urgently, we will assist all of our Federations, and through you, all the Jewish institutions in your service areas, to apply for and utilize the available federal grant funds. While we know that $180M per year will not come close to meeting the total need for our community and other communities of faith, through LiveSecure we will not only work to make sure the current funding is put to the most beneficial use, but also document the need and advocate for greater funding in the coming years.
We will also help the local fundraising campaigns that are mobilizing support for existing Community Security Initiatives. These are not one-time expenditures, but rather ongoing expenses that must now be built into the cost structure of every Jewish institution and community. We will also work to extend the umbrella of local security initiatives to each of our communities that does not currently have such a program.
We will support the important work of SCN to make sure that all of our local security initiatives are at the highest standard and are coordinating to share information and intelligence between our communities and with law enforcement, enhancing safety and security. We will also work to make sure that all the national organizations that are working to address the hate, extremism, and antisemitism that is impacting our community, and affecting our safety and security, are working collaboratively and consistently together.
LiveSecure is a work in progress. We do not have all the answers, but we also know that we cannot afford to wait. We also know the threats are evolving, so our answers — and approach — will need to evolve over time. We look forward to working in partnership to ensure that everyone feels safe and secure participating in the richness of Jewish life in our communities.
Mark Wilf is Chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees. Julie Platt is Chair of the LiveSecure Campaign and Secretary of the JFNA Board of Trustees.