By Marion Filler
Congressional leaders joined Morris County law enforcement officials Friday at the Rabbinical College of America in Morris Township to discuss security, an issue of heightened importance nationwide in the wake of mass shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and suburban San Diego.
“It means personally a lot to me to make sure there is no place for anti-Semitism in this country or in this world,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), former member of the C.I.A., former Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
McCaul and Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a member of the House Appropriations Committee and co-chair of the new Congressional Black and Jewish Caucus, spoke about a bipartisan measure to bolster security at houses of worship, H.R. 2476, which has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The bill would provide $75 million for security equipment, personnel, and training to prevent terrorist attacks at non-profit religious institutions across the country.
Spanning 82 idyllic acres on Sussex Avenue, the Rabbinical College of America attracts students from as far as Australia and South Africa to the New Jersey headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.
According to Morris Sheriff James Gannon, who attended the meeting with Morris Prosecutor Fredric Knapp, four mosques and 34 Jewish institutions in the area have not experienced any security problems.
But the Rabbinical College is a “prime area” to benefit from the bill, said McCaul, who offered to review security measures at the school and assist with grant applications. The visitors were welcomed by Rabbi Moshe Herson, dean and founder of the College.
As America observes the 75th anniversary of D-Day, McCaul recounted that his father was a participant. The Congressman said the Allies’ sacrifices to defeat Hitler and his persecution of Jews reinforced his support for HR-2476.
The bipartisan Congressional Black and Jewish Caucus started after an initiative by the American Jewish Committee in January. A stated goal of the Caucus is to unite blacks and Jews in supporting hate crime legislation and combating white supremacist ideology.
Caucus members include Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida), Lee Zeldin (D-New York), Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan), John Lewis (D-Georgia) and perhaps most significantly of all, Somali American Ilan Omar (D-Minnesota), who was censured for recent comments about the influence of pro-Israel lobbyists on the U.S. government.
“I think it’s a good thing that we are making sure that the relationships between the African American community and the Jewish community continue to be strong ever since the Civil Rights Movement,” said Hurd, one of two black Republicans in Congress.
Hurd also spoke Friday of expanding coordination among federal and state governments and local law enforcement, which he called vertical sharing.
“Because, guess what? When something happens, you are the first ones we call,” Hurd said.
Sherriff Gannon said his department is pro-active and “ahead of the curve” on securing houses of worship.
“Our involvement with the community is ongoing. We actually met with a number of rabbis throughout Morris County this week,” Gannon said, explaining that copycat crimes are a prime concern since the shootings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Poway synagogue near San Diego.
Buildings that could be targets are being assessed continually to strengthen security, the sheriff said. Frequent patrols also provide deterrence. Most critical, he said, is maintaining relationships with people in diverse communities that may be first to sense vulnerabilities.