Speaking to more than 250 attendees of Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day in Annapolis, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz didn’t mince words when alluding to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

“This is about hate,” he said of the international effort to isolate and punish Israel for its policies toward Palestinians. “We need to stand up against it.”

Kamenetz spoke at a Feb. 7 dinner reception for participants of the annual Advocacy Day event, which was planned and hosted by the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the Jewish Federation of Howard County, the Greater Washington Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Kamenetz was among a dozen politicians and legislators, including Sen. Robert A. (Bobby) Zirkin (D-11th), and their aides who met with Advocacy Day participants. Attendees ranged from teenagers — including those involved in the Associated’s Students Taking Action for Change social action group — to senior citizens.

Some people came to advocate for bills regarding specific items in the capital budget; the Maryland Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act; the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program; and a bill to ban Maryland companies supporting the BDS movement from conducting business with the state.

The latter received the most visceral reactions from politicians and attendees.

“BDS is sponsored by Israel’s enemies,” said Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-19th), of Montgomery County, at the evening reception. “They couldn’t win against Israel’s military, so now they are trying to commit economic devastation.  My emails are filled with messages from pro-BDS people asking me to kill this bill. We — all of us — must better educate people, including my colleagues here in Annapolis.”

The anti-BDS bill would prevent the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System from investing in companies participating in the effort. It would also prohibit these companies from securing state procurement contracts.

The broadest array of issues addressed at Advocacy Day focused on the capital budget. Funding at the same level as the previous budget was requested for the Community Primary and Specialty Care Complex at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

“This program goes out to the local community, reducing costs for the state and helping to keep the community healthy,” said BJC President Abba David Poliakoff.

Linda A. Hurwitz, chair of the board at the Associated, advocated for the Supportive Community Network: Empowering Older Adults to Thrive in Supportive Communities. The program benefits the growing local aging population and its needs.

“This program came from Israel, where it is very successful,” Hurwitz said.

She also advocated for $350,000 in funding for the Aging in Place for Holocaust Survivors program. Survivors are frequently a critical risk to themselves and others in elderly care facilities, largely due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Twenty-five percent of Holocaust survivors live below the poverty level,” Hurwitz said. “This breaks my heart.”

Strong feelings were also expressed when requesting additional funding for the BOOST program.  BOOST gives low-income families the opportunity to choose a private school most appropriate for their child’s needs. Enacted for the first time last year with $5 million for scholarships placed within the budget, this year’s request is for an additional $2 million.

“BOOST is extremely important to the Jewish community,” said Poliakoff, who met with Senate and House leaders before the evening reception. Joining him were Hurwitz, Rabbi Andrew Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and Elizabeth A. Green, a local attorney and member of the BOOST Advisory Board.

The group also met with Yaakov (Jake) Weissman, deputy chief of staff to Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr..

“There will likely be a tussle with the House,” Weissmann said about BOOST.  “We don’t know what they’ll do, but we will do our very best to increase the BOOST budget. Remind senators of your interest.”

The group of Jewish leaders also met with Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-43rd), chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

“The Senate will likely be in favor of additional funds for BOOST, but over here there are strong feelings about it, including fear of what’s going on at the federal level,” she said. “Not to worry yet”

Green emphasized the importance of BOOST to McIntosh. “We’ve told the schools that they can’t change their scholarships.  Please understand that these private Jewish schools don’t have enough money,” she said. Added Hurwitz: “BOOST is making such a difference to these families. They would cut down on food on the table to have their children in the schools of their choice.”

BJC Executive Director Howard Libit said this year’s Advocacy Day achieved its goal of bringing Jewish communal concerns to the attention of Annapolis lawmakers.

“We were thrilled to see such a strong turnout from the Jewish communities of Baltimore, Washington and Howard County,” he said. “The legislators and representatives of the governor’s team who joined us expressed support for our priorities, which illustrates the importance of being engaged in the political process.”

Peter Arnold is an Olney-based freelance writer.

Top Photo: Sen. Robert A. (Bobby) Zirkin (D-11th) speaks to Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day attendees.

Above: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz makes a point about the BDS movement.

Middle: Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th) greets Rabbi Andrew Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation at Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day.

Below: Baltimore Jewish Council President Abba David Poliakoff (far left) speaks with with Yaakov (Jake) Weissman (far right), deputy chief of staff to Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. Sitting nearby are Linda A. Hurwitz, chair of the board of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Rabbi Andrew Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and local attorney and Jewish community activist Elizabeth A. Green.

Photos by Kelsey Marden

 

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