After last year’s shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue the threat of anti-Semitic violence is becoming too familiar for Jewish communities.
By Senator Gary Peters
Last October, the world watched in horror as an armed gunman, fueled by hatred, opened fire inside Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. He murdered 11 worshippers and wounded many more. Earlier this month, High Holidays services for many Jewish families began with new announcements and instructions about how congregants should exit the synagogue in the event of a similar emergency. Local police departments stationed officers outside many of these houses of worship, acknowledging the very real threats these congregations face. On Oct. 27, as Pittsburgh families are observing the first yahrzeit of friends and families lost in this senseless act of violence, our nation must reflect on the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.
Sadly, the threat of violence inspired by anti-Semitism is all too familiar to Jewish communities in Michigan and across the country. Earlier this month, as families gathered to mark the first night of Sukkot, a Grand Rapids synagogue was vandalized with anti-Semitic posters including white supremacist logos and a photo of Adolf Hitler. From bomb threats called on Jewish Community Centers and Day Schools — to the massacre at Tree of Life and the attack six months later at the Chabad of Poway (Calif.) — Jewish institutions have long been the target of domestic terrorism.
The hate behind these attacks are not the only threats of this kind our nation faces. In recent years, we have also seen white supremacists burn mosques and churches, run down protestors in Charlottesville and shoot churchgoers in Charleston.
Every Michigander deserves to feel safe in their community. But tragically, as these threats and attacks on religious and racial minorities continue to rise in the United States, they leave communities in Michigan and across the country living with the reality that their houses of worship and community centers are potential targets for domestic terrorists.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I’m working to help religious institutions and nonprofit organizations access the resources they need to invest in their security and keep their communities safe.
Earlier this year, I joined with my colleague Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio to introduce the Protecting Faith-Based and Nonprofit Organizations from Terrorism Act. Our bipartisan bill, which advanced in the Senate earlier this year, increases authorized funding to $75 million annually for nonprofits and faith-based organizations to help secure their facilities well into the future. These funds can be used for developing emergency response plans, target-hardening activities or training for personnel to help safeguard these institutions and the people they serve from violent attacks. In both 2018 and 2019, Michigan institutions received more than $1 million in grants, including numerous Jewish institutions across the state.
While these funds will not stamp out the hatred and intolerance that fuels these terrorist attacks, they are a vital step toward ensuring that our places of worship can remain a safe haven for all who enter. It is not enough to protect our places of worship and community centers, we need to confront white supremacy and anti-Semitism at its root. Earlier this year, I worked with Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to hold our committee’s first hearing focused on white supremacist violence and was proud to invite the Anti-Defamation League to testify.
There is no place for hatred and bigotry toward our fellow Americans in our society, and I am proud to stand united with our state’s diverse communities in the face of this unfathomable evil. With the help of programs like this and an unwavering commitment to fight this insidious violence, we can fulfill our nation’s promise and ensure that every Michigander feels safe where they live, work and pray. May this work show that those who were lost are never forgotten, and may their memories forever be a blessing.