Anti-Semitism and Covid-19 Demanded a Strong Government Response. We New Yorkers Got One.

Confronted with the challenges of our lifetime, we owe Chuck Schumer our gratitude.

By Michael S. Miller and Eric S. Goldstein

January 14, 2021

Leading a march against anti-Semitism across the Brooklyn Bridge are, from left to right, front row, Rep. Gregory Meeks, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Jan. 5, 2020. JCRC CEO Michael Miller is second from left; UJA-Federation CEO Eric Goldstein is seen between Schumer and Cuomo. (Jake Asner/UJA Federation of New York)

It was a year ago. The Jewish community had barely passed the commemoration of the first anniversary of the Tree of Life Massacre, and suddenly we were again reeling after brazen and deadly anti-Semitic attacks in Poway, California; Monsey, New York; and Jersey City, New Jersey. Further inflaming fear and sowing hate were a series of violent anti-Semitic attacks against Orthodox Jews across the New York region.

Against this backdrop, on Dec. 30, 2019, U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer invited us, along with other nonprofit leaders, to his office to present a bold idea. In the face of significantly escalating threats, Senator Schumer announced that he would be leading an effort to dramatically increase U.S. government funding of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) so that Jewish and other faith-based institutions across the country would be able to better access critical resources to protect our communities.

Sen. Schumer went to work. While moving this effort through the legislative process, he took his voice to the streets to publicly denounce anti-Semitism. Speaking at the historic “No Hate. No Fear” march and rally we organized on Jan. 5, 2020, which brought together tens of thousands of New Yorkers, he proclaimed, “When anti-Semitism raises its ugly head … if people say there’s nothing we can do about it, then it grows. But if we fight it – then we can snuff it out.”

Despite significant budget challenges, Sen. Schumer led the charge that resulted in doubling the fiscal year 2021 NSGP budget from $90 million to $180 million. It was a critical achievement.

Last year, 186 New York nonprofits, including synagogues and day schools, were awarded government funding exceeding $17 million. With this new 2021 increase, many additional institutions will now be positioned to obtain grants that will support urgent “target hardening” measures, from security cameras to bollards that will help prevent attacks. With tens of millions of dollars available in new NSGP funding, our institutions will be safer and better equipped to help protect our community.

As Sen.Schumer was leading the fight for additional federal support, UJA-Federation and JCRC-NY created the Community Security Initiative to strengthen Jewish communal security, including by helping local institutions qualify for this newly available federal funding. Led by NYPD veteran Mitchell Silber and David Pollock, this team of top security experts has been helping hundreds of synagogues, schools, camps, and JCCs develop security plans over the last several months. The goal is to ensure that our communal organizations and spaces have adequate funding and professional support to help them provide the highest level of safety for the New York community.

The one thing, of course, none of us were able to foresee as we dealt with the surge of anti-Semitic incidents was the Covid-19 crisis. New York was hit with a speed and ferocity that has devastated so many. Along with illness, suffering, and loss came the reality that many of our treasured institutions — the historic beating heart of New York Jewish life — might not survive the economic impact of the pandemic.

While UJA and many other philanthropic sources immediately made available tens of millions of dollars in grants and loans to address the immediate challenges, avoiding imminent closures required the kind of support that only the federal government can provide. We couldn’t be more grateful that under the leadership of Sen. Schumer and the entire New York delegation, both the initial CARES Act and the just-passed Covid relief legislation provided hundreds of millions of dollars in forgivable PPP loans for our city, and in particular, for our nonprofits, including synagogues and yeshivot — forestalling a crippling economic collapse.

As we look ahead, even with the arrival of vaccines and the hope they offer, the reality is that recovery will take years. Addressing the economic, emotional and mental health toll, food insecurity, and job loss will take a level of investment unprecedented since the Great Depression.

Confronted with the challenge of our lifetime, we owe Chuck Schumer our gratitude and know that we can count on him in the trying times to come.  We thank Sen. Schumer for all he has accomplished on behalf of New York and all those in need across the nation, and we congratulate him on his new role as Senate Majority Leader. We look forward to continuing to work together on additional state and local aid, health and housing supports, hunger relief, extending PPP eligibility, and strengthening the nonprofits so vital to New York’s future.

Michael S. Miller is the Executive Vice President and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. Eric S. Goldstein is the CEO of UJA-Federation of New York.