Illinois Legislation for Synagogue Security Funding Gains Momentum

Following the deadly attack in the Poway Chabad synagogue on the last day of Passover, an Illinois bill that would fund security personnel for houses of worship was thrust into the spotlight. The measure, championed by Agudath Israel of Illinois (AIOI) and sponsored by Representative Yehiel Kalish (D-Chicago) calls for funding an anti-terror security grant program for at-risk nonprofits.  

The program, which has yet to be funded, was passed into law in 2017. At the urging of Agudath Israel, former state Representative Lou Lang had introduced the bill and shepherded it through the Legislature. At a press conference on Friday, Lang’s successor, Rep. Kalish, called upon his colleagues in the Illinois General Assembly and Governor Pritzker to support his request of appropriating $30 million to fund the program.  

Flanked by rabbis and other faith leaders, Rep. Kalish explained the urgency and need for additional security funding. “We have been rocked by these attacks over and over,” he said. The funds, he explained, could be used for armed security personnel, as well as target-hardening infrastructure improvements. 

Rabbi Yaakov Robinson, rabbi of Congregation Mekor Hachaim and executive director of Agudath Israel’s Midwest Conference of Synagogue Rabbis, addressed reporters’ questions about how recent attacks have transformed synagogues from “houses of serenity into houses of anxiety; schools, from houses of education into houses of trepidation.” He related how even attacks in distant locations have had a visceral effect on his own congregants who view these attacks as close to home. Orthodox Jews, he explained, don’t drive on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays but walk to and from synagogue, often with their wives and children. The mindset of the community has changed. Not only could enhanced security literally save lives, but it could also return some peace of mind to families that simply want to connect with G-d and each other.  

When asked about the issue of government funds being used for religious organizations and potential violations of the establishment clause and the First Amendment, Rep Kalish called upon Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, AIOI’s director of government affairs, who had been involved with drafting and advocating for the legislation. The bill, he explained, isn’t specifically for religious institutions. It’s for all at-risk nonprofits. “Hate crosses all boundaries. Unfortunately, it happens to be that in today’s day and age, many religious institutions are the highest-risk.” CBS local news covered the presser and ran this story.  

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