web analytics
August 1, 2015 / 16 Av, 5775
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post


Home » News & Views » US » NY »

Controversy Abounds Over FEMA Funding For Sandy-Damaged Synagogues


FEMA-022213

WASHINGTON – How essential is a house of worship to a neighborhood?

That’s the crux of a question now exercising Congress as a bill advances that would provide direct relief to synagogues and churches damaged by Superstorm Sandy last October.

The bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week by a vote of 354-72 with strong bipartisan support (see Week in Review, page 48), adds houses of worship to those defined as a “private nonprofit facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature to the general public.”

The Senate is expected to take up the measure soon; backers there include Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has withheld funding for houses of worship, citing constitutional separations of church and state. FEMA, which fiercely opposes the bill, wrote in a backgrounder distributed to congressional offices and obtained by JTA that “churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship” cannot “be broadly considered to provide ‘essential services of a governmental nature.’ ”

Despite the strength of its House approval, the bill has stirred controversy, but the divisions are novel: Instead of the classic disagreements engendered by church-state arguments, this one has liberal Democrats disagreeing and the two major Jewish civil rights groups on opposite sides.

The American Jewish Committee joined lobbying on behalf of the bill along with a number of other Jewish groups, including the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and the Jewish Federations of North America. The Anti-Defamation League is opposed. The Reform movement, meanwhile, has been careful not to take a position, noting its disagreement with such funding in the past but not weighing in this time.

“In general, we have serious constitutional concerns about this type of funding,” Sean Thibault, a spokesman for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement.

“However, we recognize that this aid is, in certain respects, distinct from other forms of aid that we have historically opposed. We continue to work with congregations to help them understand the varied constitutional and policy concerns before each synagogue makes their own decisions.”

Rabbi David Bauman of Temple Israel in Long Beach, N.Y., said his synagogue suffered $5 million damage from Sandy and that the disrepair bled into the wider community. Religious school students who have not met for months recently gathered in each other’s homes for smaller tutorials – a situation that Bauman said is “not ideal.”

The local Alcoholics Anonymous group hasn’t had a place to meet since the synagogue social hall was ruined in the storm. “Those people need to come together,” Bauman said, noting that he was searching for an alternative venue.

Such services are why houses of worship should be as eligible as other community service organizations, says Nathan Diament, who helms the Orthodox Union’s Washington operation. “Already among the private non-profits eligible for FEMA’s aid are community centers, and FEMA’s definition of community centers are places where people gather to engage in educational and social and enrichment activities,” Diament said.

“FEMA then decided on its own that if those activities are done in a house of worship, they are not eligible. What we are seeking to legislate is government neutrality and equal treatment.”

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), whose congressional district includes much of the borough of Queens, co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). In an interview, Meng said she co-sponsored the bill because some 200 institutions in the New York-New Jersey region had been devastated but were still providing critical relief for neighbors.

“They were one of the first ones to open up their doors and feed people at the same time their electricity was out or their floors were ruined,” Meng told JTA.

The Orthodox Union has estimated that some 60 to 70 synagogues in New York and New Jersey of all denominations have been affected.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose district covers much of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, vociferously opposes the bill, which he said would amount to government funding of religion.

“This bill would direct federal taxpayer dollars to the reconstruction of houses of worship,” Nadler said in remarks quoted by NY1, a cable news channel. “The idea that taxpayer money can be used to build a religious sanctuary or an altar has consistently been held unconstitutional.”

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Controversy Abounds Over FEMA Funding For Sandy-Damaged Synagogues”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Matt Lee of the Associated Press at the State Department press briefing.
ObamaDeal Exposed: It’s not ‘Secret’ from Congress but not in Writing
Latest News Stories

There were no injuries, but the bus was badly damaged.

Matt Lee of the Associated Press at the State Department press briefing.

State Dept. claims Congress is “looped in,” but IAEA head refuse to testify at Senate hearings.

They are throwing rocks and blocks at the drivers as they drive by.

“Families should not be stuck paying hidden fees, or buying ‘premium’ seats, simply because they wish to be seated together on crowded flights.”

Arabs threw firebombs and stones at Jewish people, homes and cars all week long, yet the mainstream media missed most of the reports.

The IDF and police are combing Judea and Samaria to search and arrest the attackers.

“Yesha” and Binyamin Regional Council leaders said the attack “is not the path of Jews in Judea and Samaria.”

Saudi Arabia may buy $5.4 billion worth of PAC-3 missiles as part of an effort by the Obama to soothe Riyadh’s anger over the nuclear agreement with Iran. The State Dept. approved the Lockheed missile sale, which also would be another plum for the military-industrial complex. Lockheed stated, “Lockheed Martin is supporting the US government […]

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement after this mornings’ arson-murder, apparently by  price-tag terrorists, near Shechem (Nablus): I am shocked over this reprehensible and horrific act. This is an act of terrorism in every respect. The State of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are. I have ordered […]

Thousands of security forces have been deployed to the Temple Mount. Mother and brother of baby are in critical condition.

The initial investigation indicates that Price Tag vandals have now graduated to murder.

California Democratic Congressman will vote against Iran deal because it fails to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state.

Hamas said that the unity government’s reshuffle was “unconstitutional and outside consensus.”

Jewish community leaders argued these “stolpersteine” — German for stumbling blocks — were an inappropriate form of remembrance because people would step on them.

More Articles from Ron Kampeas
Former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton. (archive)

Clinton derided perceptions that U.S.-Israel tensions had become tense under Obama.

“We have made impressive progress on issues that originally seemed intractable. We have cleared up misunderstandings and held exhaustive discussions on every element of a possible text.”

It’s not yet clear if Nemmouche was acting on orders and, if so, whether the orders came from ISIS.

“The Jewish community is going to have to work harder,” said one veteran official who has worked both as a professional in the Jewish community and a staffer for a Jewish lawmaker.

The disagreements don’t seem to have gone away, despite a cease-fire that appears to be firmly in place.

“On the Hill and with some people with whom I have spoken who are robust Israel supporters, people are concerned if not angry,” one of the staffers, a Democrat, told JTA

President Obama in an April 25 press conference seemed ready to take a break. “There may come a point at which there just needs to be a pause and both sides need to look at the alternatives,” he said.

Obama himself suggested that a break from the process may be necessary.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/us-news/ny/controversy-abounds-over-fema-funding-for-sandy-damaged-synagogues/2013/02/20/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: