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Jewish institutions get security grants

Seven Jewish institutions in Queens at risk of being targets of terrorism will receive nearly $525,000 in U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and a group of borough officials announced Monday at the Rego Park Jewish Center.

The federal grants, which average around $75,000 for each institution, will help the locations better guard themselves against potential attacks — including replacing glass windows that are easily broken or securing entrances and exits.

“After Sept. 11, many nonprofits were told they need to make security upgrades but were given no funds to do that,” Weiner said. “Finding ways to pay for things like security cameras is very difficult.”

The Queens institutions that landed the funds include five synagogues, one Jewish center and one yeshiva. Many of the sites asked that Weiner not release their names in order to protect themselves. Two of the synagogues— the Rego Park Jewish Center on Queens Boulevard and Hillcrest Jewish Center on Union Turnpike — agreed to be identified.

“We hope this will be a threat to anybody thinking of coming in here” to attack the Rego Park Jewish Center, the center’s chairwoman, Ruth Loewenstein, said.

Loewenstein said her center will probably use the $75,000 to better fortify the front and back doors.

“This will make us much more secure,” she said.

Jared Rifkin, vice president at the Hillcrest Jewish Center, said this is the third time the center has received a federal security grant, which it has in the past used to install video surveillance. These recent funds will help Hillcrest to replace the hundreds of square feet of glass the center has in the front of the building, Rifkin said.

“It will give our congregants a greater feeling of security,” Rifkin said.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said when she and state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) sponsored a bill in 2009 that called for a survey of nonprofits about security needs, she learned religious institutions feared they were at a high risk of being targets of terrorism.

“This funding is particularly significant because New York state doesn’t have the money to do that,” Stavisky said. “Queens County is fighting terrorism through the efforts of our congressman.”

Weiner helped to launch the Urban Area Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which is handing out these funds, in 2005. Since the program began, nearly 300 nonprofits in the state have received nearly $23 million in funding. The $525,000 the seven Queens institutions will get represents a 95 percent increase over last year.

Within the New York City area, a number of institutions received funding, including the Jewish centers, synagogues, hospitals and schools.

“Over the years, these grants have proved to be vital resources in protecting our religious and cultural institutions,” Weiner said. “Worshipers, museum-goers and hospital visitors expect and deserve a safe environment, and this funding will go a long way toward ensuring their security.

City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik also praised the grants, saying they will help give Queens residents peace of mind.

“Queens County is home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, and we’re not immune to terrorism,” Grodenchik said. “The $75,000 may not seem like a lot, but it’s a tremendous amount for a local facility.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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