web analytics
January 29, 2015 / 9 Shevat, 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.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Hezbollah, designated by the US as a terrorist group, and a US Army tank.
Hezbollah Army Video Shows Off US Army Equipment [video]
Latest News Stories
Hezbollah, designated by the US as a terrorist group, and a US Army tank.

Hezbollah is a terrorist group and terrorist party, but most and worst of all, it is a huge and powerful army.

Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the crumbling Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Lieberman’s issues a disproportionate response to polls that show his party will barely squeeze into the Knesset.

House Speaker Boehner

Boehner criticized President Obama for failing to take the threat of terrorism and the Iranian nuclear threat seriously.

Je suis Juif de France: 'I am a Jew of France."

US Treasury Secy Jack Lew contends that French Jews really want to stay in France. They just want to be safe too.

It is also still not clear whether the main issue of the election will be security or economics.

El-Sisi has embarked on an ambitious plan to destroy Hamas’s tunnel infrastructure underneath the Egyptian-Gaza border.

Israeli food makers are getting nervous about Israeli taste buds being Americanized.

Now the Secret Service needs a device to disable drunken government workers who fly drones at 1600 Pennsylvania.

PM Binyamin Netanyahu warns at a memorial for late PM Ariel Sharon that Iran has already begun its war against Israel.

“Not wanting to stir things up in the north” means “Yes, we could bomb them to kingdom come, but. no, we won’t.”

The US condemns Hezbollah’s attack on “IDF forces” but never mentions civilians or terror. Why not?

Canada comes out in strong support of Israel as it faces another threat from Iranian Mideast proxy, Hezbollah.

Professor Israel Hershkovitz (above) of the David-Manot Cave project compares a Neanderthal skull (L) and a Homo Sapiens skull (R), outside the excavation cave in Manot, Western Galilee in Northern Israel, on January 28, 2015. Archaeologists discovered a 55,000-year-old human skull in the Manot cave, which is the earliest fossilized evidence of an anatomically modern human […]

Five IDF soldiers are in Ziv Hospital in Tzefat…

9:31pm The Mt. Hermon ski resort on the Golan Heights will be open for business tomorrow morning — having receiving permission from the IDF. 8:03pm Channel 2 reports that Hezbollah terror cell was located 5 kilometers from Israel, and not within Israel as originally thought.Soldiers in 2nd vehicle were saved after they jumped out of […]

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday night that “whoever is behind today’s attack will pay the full price.”

More Articles from Ron Kampeas
Hillary Clinton

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: