Baker: We have have the backs of those practicing faith – Wicked Local Swampscott

Posted By on January 7, 2020

$1M in grant money aims to protect nonprofits from violence, says state Rep. Lori Ehrlich.

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After the first bar mitzvah he attended as an adult, Gov. Charlie Baker was so enamored with the idea of parents making a speech or writing a letter detailing their aspirations for their child that he "stole it" from the Jewish faith and adapted it into a secular part of his own children's 13th birthday celebrations.

"I think it's incredibly important for us to remember that just because somebody takes a different path than you do in pursuit of their faith, their community development, whatever it might be, their identity, doesn't mean it's not in many ways common to yours," the Swampscott Republican said Monday. "And I think it's really important for folks like us to keep reminding people that differences, many times, are benefits."

The governor stressed the importance of community and common understanding during an event in his ceremonial office Monday to highlight new security enhancement funding available for nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of terrorist attack or hate crimes.

The number of hate crimes -- including crimes motivated by race, religion, ethnicity and more -- reported to the state increased by almost 10 percent to a 10-year high in 2017. Though the issue is not exclusive to any single religion, the Anti-Defamation League said last year that 2018 was "the second-highest year for anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts on record," with 2018 ranking second only to 2017.

"We 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," Baker said Monday. "And we're going to stand strong and stand tall with them, period. End of discussion. Case closed."

Violent and deadly attacks targeting Jewish people or Jewish institutions have made national headlines in recent weeks. In December, the New York City area saw a series of attacks against Orthodox Jews during Hanukkah and a pair of shooters killed four people, including a police officer, during an attack that targeted a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N.J. At the end of the month, a man armed with a machete stabbed at least five people gathered for a Hanukkah celebration at the home of a rabbi in a New York City suburb.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has worked with the Legislature over the last few years to create a similar grant program at the state level for religious and nonprofit facilities "at risk of terrorism and violent threat." In the fiscal year 2018 budget, the state provided $75,000 for such grants. It expanded to $150,000 and then to $500,000 in the most recent annual budget. In the supplemental budget Baker signed last month, lawmakers approved an additional $1 million in funding.

In a Monday press release, State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, said she fully backed the latter allocation.

Its sad that there is such a need for this but coming forward with assistance and standing together as we are sends a strong signal that the leaders of Massachusetts have zero tolerance for bigotry and hate, said Ehrlich. I am proud to join my colleagues in showing that no matter what your faith or your identity, we will protect your freedom to worship and gather safely.

Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem said her constituents are pleased that their government would move to help any community that faces persecution.

"This signing of this is so symbolic. Yes, it's important that the money's there for security reasons, but it's the symbolism today," Creem, a Newton Democrat, said. "Whether it's anti-semitism in my community or any form of hate or children going to school, we are taking a position today, that we'll be with you, and we're all together and for that, I'm enormously grateful and the communities that I represent are enormously grateful."

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said that while he is concerned about attacks on churches and synagogues, he is especially worried about "what's happening in our schools," citing instances in which anti-Semitic graffiti has been found scrawled on the walls of school bathrooms and lockers by young people.

"Where's that coming from? Is this something which is permeating into younger people that we have in our state or whatever?" the speaker said.

Asked what he thinks is fueling the increase in hate crimes, Baker said he could not pinpoint any one cause but wagered a guess as to what factors might be contributing.

"I think people have forgotten that language is a weapon -- or don't care, and I don't know which it is. I think for some people it's one or the other. I also think, frankly, that social media plays a role in this. It is a very coarse and incredibly aggressive environment and I think people say things all the time on social media that they would never say to somebody's face, or I hope they wouldn't."

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Baker: We have have the backs of those practicing faith - Wicked Local Swampscott

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