It’s not often that kids find politics interesting, but the students at Magen David Yeshivah elementary school in Brooklyn gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo the rock-star treatment from the time he walked onto the stage to when he left.
New York State awarded $5.8 million in grants for Brooklyn nonprofit schools, day care centers and cultural museums that will be used to enhance security measures, the governor announced on Wednesday. The governor’s vision of an equal and just society includes the need for making sure non-public childcare and education entities have the funding to meet the security standards he wants for public institutions. The grant money is part of the statewide $25 million Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes Grant Program.
Children, parents, faculty alike all made their way through the clean and airy hallways of the private elementary school and into a packed auditorium where the governor addressed them. Kibitzing echoed throughout the building, or maybe it was just the enthusiasm of knowing the governor was about to speak.
“By supporting the diverse cultures and community centers found throughout this great state, we are setting an example for the nation while establishing a stronger, safer New York for all,” Gov. Cuomo said.
The echoes in the hallways from before the governor spoke sounded like mere whispers compared to the thunderous applause and electric cheering that filled the auditorium and entire building with nearly uncontainable energy, which is saying something considering how large Magen David Yeshivah is. A sea of kippahs would simultaneously rise and recede when the governor sang their tune.
The State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services issued the grant, which provides up to $50,000 in funding for additional security training needs, cameras, door-hardening, and improved lighting. Organizations that operate more than one facility could submit up to three applications for a total request of up to $150,000.
The vast majority of the organizations are Jewish, like Magen David Yeshivah, which received three $50,000 grants for its buildings. Other organizations include the Brooklyn Amity School,
Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services, Inc., St. Ephrem School and Holy Angels Catholic Academy. Each of those organizations received $50,000 grants, with the exception of Holy Angels Catholic Academy, which received $25,000. One other group, the Council of People’s Organization, advocates for the rights of low-income immigrants and Muslims while trying to help build better relations between Muslim and non-Muslim groups. All of these different organizations fit into what Cuomo talked about in front of the cheering parents and students at Magen David Yeshivah, the need for a society where there’s opportunity for all and where discrimination won’t be tolerated.
Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union, Allen Fagin, also felt optimistic about the announcement but was cautious. “In the insane world we’re living in, I’m not sure there is a concept of adequate security,” Fagin said. He will also continue to advocate for these issues and continue stressing the importance of making sure these non-public organizations have the same access to security that publicly funded places do. “You need to be blind to what’s going on in the world if you don’t have some concern for safety and security,” he said. “Pick up a newspaper or turn on the television,” he added.
Cuomo was introduced by a woman personally affected by the kind of hate about which Cuomo highlighted. Devorah Halberstam dedicated the Jewish Children’s Museum to her late son, Ari Halberstram, who was killed by a Lebanese gunman on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994. Her emotional and vivid descriptions of her son and what happened set the scene for Cuomo’s presentation.
“In life, certain things happen to people, and you get to see how they respond,” Cuomo said as he opened his speech. He spoke about his admiration for how this grieving mother didn’t respond with hatred or anger, but instead she took the pain of losing a child and turned it into a positive. The museum she helped create, a museum that aims to teach tolerance, was vandalized and evacuated for a bomb threat last year. These kinds of incidents and the spike in their occurrences are great examples of why the state is giving these grants for bolstered security at 80 Brooklyn organizations.
The governor cited the rising incidents of hate and white supremacy. He referenced Anti-Defamation League statistics that show a 60 percent increase in anti-Semitic activity and a 90 percent increase for that same activity in the city of New York alone. Cuomo said that he wants parents and students to know they should be able to feel they are in a safe place when at schools and other institutions for children.
The announcement comes on the heels of the state granting $2.1 million to the same types of institutions in Long Island. Cuomo has also put together a special police unit that investigates hate crimes. He said that there should be “zero tolerance for this activity.” The state police receive referrals from both the hotline and text line monitored by the Division of Human Rights. Cases of discrimination that are covered by the New York State Human Rights Law may be further investigated. Anyone with information leading to an arrest or conviction for a hate crime can receive a $5,000.
Jake Adler, director of Teach NYS and member of the Orthodox Union, felt pleased with the governor’s announcement and thinks that the basic security requirements can now be fulfilled at the institutions receiving the grants. His said that his organization’s work is never done and that they will continue going to Albany to advocate for their positions. He didn’t have an answer when asked if these security measures could potentially carry the negative consequence of the kids feeling like they’re growing up in a security state.
Announced in October 2017, the Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes Grant program attempts to mitigate the issue of hate crimes, and the FY 2017-18 state budget established a statewide Hate Crimes Task Force to mitigate recent incidents of bias-motivated threats, harassment, and violence in New York.