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Expanding the mandate for ‘securing the Jewish future’

Unless we can physically secure our Jewish facilities where the Jewish future is incubated, that future itself will be insecure.  

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Photo credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

The 1990 National Jewish Population Study, undertaken by Jewish Federations nationwide, reset the Jewish communal agenda. While not exactly blindsided, the findings of accelerated disconnect to Jewish identity and life choices alarmed community leaders.

"Continuity" became a buzzword. But the response was more than mere talk. Massive amounts of Jewish philanthropy, especially by Jewish Federations, were both redirected and newly invested into efforts often described as "securing the Jewish future." 

Here in Chicago, that has meant supporting Birthright and eighth grade trips to Israel, JUF preschool and summer camp vouchers, PJ Library, Camp TOV, YLD's Big Event Fundraiser, jBaby playgroups, tens of millions of additional dollars supporting 16 Hillels statewide, and more.

Three decades later, after the "continuity" wake-up call and the recent wake-up calls of deadly synagogue attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway and other incidents too numerous to list, we must now expand the mandate of what it means to "secure the Jewish future" to also include institutional security.

Yes, of course the community must still invest ever more and do so more creatively and with measurable impacts in the "continuity" agenda. But in a very literal sense, unless we can physically secure our Jewish facilities where the Jewish future is incubated-camps, schools, synagogues, agencies, Hillels, and JCCs-that future itself will be insecure.

Thirty years ago, we realized that only new approaches infused with significant investments would change the trajectory of the Jewish future. Today we realize that while both new programs and enhanced security are necessary, neither by itself is sufficient.

There is no boiler plate security system that fits every facility. It is an imprecise line between our facilities looking like armed fortresses and still remaining open spaces. We must ensure that while we secure those spaces, they become ever more welcoming to young families, young adults, teens, and our beloved seniors, and especially those of all ages with special needs.

Similarly, even as JUF's new Fund for the Future will marshal many tens of millions of dollars for "continuity," we are also doubling down in its efforts to secure the hundreds of Jewish facilities that serve our community:

  •  Over two recent grant cycles, JUF has awarded over $1.6 million in matching grants to 88 local institutions serving over 37,000 people.
  •  Through the "magic of the match," that $1.6 million leveraged an additional $2.3 million from those 88 groups; meaning nearly $4 million of new, improved security-be it capital or security guards-for our community.
  •  50 percent of all Chicago-area synagogue requested JUF security grants. 100 percent of synagogues that requested support received it.
  •  The 88 institutions represent our community's geographic, service delivery, and denominational diversity.
  •  Since Congress' launched its Non-Profit Security Grant program in 2005, our community has received 250 awards for 100 sites worth over $20 million. In addition to being a grant awardee itself, JUF provides all local Jewish groups notification of funding deadlines, application guidance, and step-by-step technical assistance throughout the process.

Another ingredient to JUF's security strategy is partnerships with national Jewish organizational colleagues and law enforcement official (federal, state, county and local).

The Secure Community Network (SCN), an initiative of Jewish Federations and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has one purpose: security initiatives for our community. Led by Chicagoan Michael Masters (a former CPD Chief of Staff and Executive Director of Cook County Homeland Security), SCN helps Jewish communities review their security infrastructure, policies, preparedness, and makes recommendations for enhancements. In the aftermath of a crisis, SCN helps communities recover.

JUF also maintains its own collaborations with law enforcement agencies-from the FBI to DHS, from the Secret Service to State Police, and from the Chicago Police Department to dozens of smaller police departments throughout Chicagoland.

The benefits of these relationships are not just mutual, they are multi-lateral. A few years back JUF's HQs served as a remote CPD operations center during the NATO Summit. JUF has hosted three law enforcement missions to Israel for CPD's SWAT, Counterterrorism and Intelligence Bureau, Organized Crime Unit, and the Chief of Police.  

JUF has placed six participants in the FBI's Citizens Academy and was awarded one of the CPD's highest honors.

At the end of the day, all the security funding, all the security training and equipment, and all the security relationships are simply a means-a means to help sustain and strengthen Jewish life. Together, with an eye towards security but our hearts focused on Jewish life, we will secure the Jewish future.

Jay Tcath is the executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund. 

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