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State sets aside $1m for grants to help keep houses of worship safe

Rabbi Rachmiel Liberman and Governor Charlie Baker lit a candle on the menorah to celebrate Hanukkah at the State House in 2015. Governor Charlie Baker announced Monday a security grant program for nonprofit organizations to help keep houses of worship safe.
Rabbi Rachmiel Liberman and Governor Charlie Baker lit a candle on the menorah to celebrate Hanukkah at the State House in 2015. Governor Charlie Baker announced Monday a security grant program for nonprofit organizations to help keep houses of worship safe. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

After a national wave of anti-Semitic incidents in recent years, including a stabbing at a Hanukkah celebration in New York last month and the murder of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, Governor Charlie Baker pledged Monday to protect the ability of people in Massachusetts to worship without fear.

Baker said state government leaders “have the backs of those who are here to practice their faith, to live their lives without worrying about being assaulted or, in some cases, severely injured or even maimed or killed because of those beliefs. And we’re going to stand strong and stand tall — period, end of discussion, case closed.”

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Flanked by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Senate President Karen E. Spilka, Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, and faith leaders from different backgrounds, Baker lauded a new infusion of money for a security grant program for nonprofit organizations — $1 million in new money that will help houses of worship stay safe, he said.

Nonprofit groups may apply to the Commonwealth Nonprofit Safety Grant Program to receive state funds. Three groups received grants in 2019 after asking for money to hold active-shooter training at a synagogue, while others wanted to create walls that were impenetrable by bullets.

DeLeo said he attended the signing ceremony with “mixed emotions.” He noted “the uptick” of anti-Semitic incidents in recent months but said he was “extremely proud” the Legislature had acted to “bring some sense of security.”

State Senator Eric P. Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat who led efforts to increase grant funding as part of a December state budget agreement, noted he was at a synagogue with his young daughters when he learned about the shooting in Pittsburgh.

“America is a great place and Massachusetts is a great place and it’s a very small number of people that are committing these acts — and the response is that the many come together to say that has no place here, and our communities will be protected,” Lesser said.

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Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said that in the past, persecution of Jews was state-sanctioned.

But “today, what we see here, and what we see in this country, is that government has the back of communities of faith, minorities, and communities under attack,” Burton said. “That gives us the resiliency to continue to gather, to continue to meet, continue to celebrate our culture and our faith as a community.”


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp.