web analytics
October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



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
Ismail Haniyeh, highest ranking Hamas member in Gaza, pictured Nov. 25, 2012.
Hamas Leader’s Daughter Treated in Israeli Hospital; #BDSFail
Latest News Stories
Ismail Haniyeh, highest ranking Hamas member in Gaza, pictured Nov. 25, 2012.

#BDSFail as daughter of Hamas leader is treated in Israeli hospital.

Mahmoud Abbas, acting leader of the Palestinian Authority

Abbas was denounced by the SWC for trying to disassociate Jews from their holy sites and inciting violence against them.

Bus 177 Smashed Glass

The Jerusalem Intifada continues on…

israel polls

A clear majority of Jewish Israelis oppose a Palestinian state, once they’re told the details of what it means.

Hamas has continued to test-fire its homemade rockets, firing them into the Mediterranean and into the Sinai desert in Egypt, where it has spotters. It is possible that the sirens this morning were tripped by such test launches.

The General Security Services (Shabak) of the State of Israel believes that more Israeli Muslims are preparing to join ISIS.

Israeli forces take part in a mass Ebola identification training exercise at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on October 17, 2014. Officials and employees from the Population Immigration and Border Authority, airlines, the Magen David Adom emergency medical services, the Health Ministry and the police participated in the drill, aimed at identifying travelers who […]

It’s raining today in Jerusalem, the first major rain storm of the new year.

Giuliani to keynote Klinghoffer opera’s opening night press conference and protest rally

At least 5 swastikas were discovered painted on the Temple Mount.

It is hard to believe, but Egypt is now dependent on Israel for gas instead of the other way around.

The checkpoint near Jenin was closed after the IDF thought a person passing through was a suicide bomber.

Barzilai hospital searched for its resident doctor-turned-terrorist after he disappeared and discovered that he changed professions.

The firebombs were thrown at the entrance of the hospital that faces Issawiya.

A ‘good news’ story from the Nepal avalanche disaster to warm your heart. Take out your Kleenex.

More Articles from Ron Kampeas

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

Capital-Bldg-091214

“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.

But Israel’s stance is not sufficiently consequential to set off a fight between friends, neoconservative scholars said.

Tensions between Russia and the West are mounting over the Russian military takeover of the Crimean Peninsula, with the United States and European countries threatening to impose sanctions.

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: