By Stacey Dresner
HARTFORD – With the recent passing of Connecticut Senate Bill 1014, the Jewish community centers in West Hartford and Woodbridge will soon be able to access $1 million in state grants as reimbursement for the cost of increasing their security.
An amendment to Bill 1014 – which deals with revisions and additions to education statutes – asked that private schools be given an extension in using a $1 million portion of $10 million in funding from a state School Security Grant program that would otherwise have expired by June 30 of this year. That deadline has now been extended to June 30, 2018.
A line item in the bill added licensed childcare centers and preschools that have received threats to the statute. This allows the Mandell JCC in West Hartford and the JCC of Greater New Haven in Woodbridge – both of which house daycare and preschools – to be included.
Both JCCs and their childcare centers were among Jewish institutions that received multiple bomb threats in January, forcing evacuations and concern among the local Jewish communities. Hebrew High School of New England in West Hartford was among several day schools and JCCs that received bomb threats in March.
A teenager in Ashkelon, Israel, with dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship, was eventually charged with making hoax bomb threats to Jewish community centers around the U.S.
Hoaxes or not, the bomb threats raised concerns in many Jewish communities about the safety of their JCCs, which are often occupied by their most vulnerable populations.
“With the increase in antisemitic acts in the United States and throughout the world, especially those focused on our schools, I think it is imperative that we be proactive and provide proper security to protect our children, patrons and staff,” said State Sen. David Baram. “In Connecticut, our JCCs have been targeted with threats and I know that we’ve been implementing security programs to address these potential threats. State reimbursements however will allow us to obtain state assistance in installing sophisticated electronic monitoring systems, make infrastructure enhancements and promote staff training. These funds will enable us to provide the best protection possible to a community that has been threatened in the past because of the increase of antisemitic events throughout the United States.”
Baram said that the effort to enable the Jewish organizations to access these grants was a joint effort between legislators and the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT).
“A number of us, including myself and Sen. Gayle Slossberg, worked with [former JFACT Executive Director] Bob Fishman last year to continue the program and preserve those funds that had not been accessed,” he said. “We also worked very closely with Robert Shea, who is the lobbyist for the Hartford Archdiocese. I have to extend our appreciation and gratitude to the Archdiocese for supporting us and recognizing how important this was to the Jewish community.”
This year, Baram said, the group of legislators and Michael Bloom, the recently appointed executive director of JFACT, worked to get the amendments added to the bill before the Education Committee, co-chaired by Sen. Slossberg and Rep. Andrew Fleischmann of West Hartford.
“This grant money is crucial to the Jewish community because of the rise in antisemitic events all across our state,” Bloom said. “The JCCs need access to these grants to make the children at their school and the entire community who use the JCC to feel welcome and safe.”
Several kinds of security improvements are eligible for the state’s School Security Grant Program. These include improvements to the security infrastructure at schools, including but not limited to, installation of surveillance cameras, penetration resistant vestibules, ballistic glass, solid core doors, double door access, computer-controlled electronic locks, entry door buzzer systems, scan card systems, and panic alarms or systems.
It also includes the purchase of portable entrance security devices, including but not limited to metal detector wands and screening machines; as well as the training of school security personnel in the operation of the security infrastructure.
“We are so grateful to the State of Connecticut for including the Mandell JCC and the New Haven JCC in the recent security enhancement bill,” Bloom said. “Our vigilance about safety was heightened this year when our JCCs and our preschools experienced the threatening phone calls. We know that these funds will make a real difference in our ability to ensure that our buildings are safe and welcoming to our members and the community.”
CAP: JCC of Greater New Haven