Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz announced on Thursday $700,000 in community service grants to assist in protecting houses of worship and nonprofit organizations.
Forty-two Jewish institutions are among those that will benefit from the grant, ranging from $3,400 to $16,000 each.
The grants are geared toward operating needs. This is in contrast to federal and Maryland state security grants that are geared toward capital needs.
Montgomery County councilmember Andrew Friedson said the criteria for how the money can be spent is a little bit more flexible than grant programs in other places. He said this is important because security needs differ across different organizations, whether for hiring an off-duty police officer or installing security cameras.
This announcement came less than two weeks after a gunman took four people hostage at Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. It also came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Freedom of assembly is a sacred constitutional right, and it should be free from the fear of violence,” Elrich said at the press conference announcing the grants..
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said while Jews constitute about 2 percent of the U.S. population, about 60 percent of religious-based hate crimes target Jewish institutions and people. He also noted the increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans, Muslim Americans, African Americans and other groups in the last several years.
“We in the Jewish community will not live in fear, nor will we cower,” Halber said. “We will not permit this unprecedented wave of violence to deter us from observing our faith publicly with pride. And we will stand together with our fellow Americans of all backgrounds, as we have always done, should they find themselves victims of senseless hatred.”
The funding is administered by the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security to nonprofit organizations for those needs. Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in Maryland that funds grants for faith-based and nonprofit organizations from county coffers to help them offset security costs.
Elrich and Friedson led the effort for the grant, working with Albornoz and then-council president Sidney Katz. Friedson said a town hall meeting about two years ago was the impetus to security grants to protect people in at faith-based institutions in Montgomery County.
“I think it’s largely a reflection of us living our values, and not just committing with words, but with action and with actual funding,” Friedson said. “We are here to keep everybody in our community safe.”