It’s highly unlikely that the brave and beautiful Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, would have ever let inclement weather stop her from lobbying on behalf of a cause she deemed important.
Neither did the supporters of Jews United for Justice, who descended upon Annapolis on Monday night determined to beat the arrival of a huge snowstorm. With more than 70 homemade Purim gift bags to deliver, they met with legislators and made their voices heard at the first joint JUFJ Purim lobby night on Mar. 13.
But it almost didn’t happen. Nearly 80 people were to travel by bus from Baltimore and Montgomery County to meet in Annapolis at 6 p.m., and meetings were scheduled with delegates and senators, said Molly Amster, director of JUFJ Baltimore. Dozens more baked hamentaschen, and many children decorated the mishloach manot (Purim gift bags), she said. But Mother Nature had different plans.
In anticipation of the predicted “snow-pocalypse” Monday night — but still determined to meet with legislators before a critical senate vote on Tuesday and a big push before session ends in four weeks — flexibility prevailed. Even with the last-minute time change to 4 p.m. on a workday, about 30 people showed up.
The Purim lobby night allows JUFJ members to participate “in a hamish [personable] and Jewish way,” Amster said. “People can say, ‘We’re sharing our culture with you, and in the spirit of this holiday we’re using our power to implore you to do the right thing.”
Amster, along with other JUFJ staff, kept a meeting at 7:30 p.m. with House Speaker Del. Michael E. Busch, despite the weather threat.
JUFJ supporters — of whom there are nearly 4,000 statewide — were lobbying for earned sick and safe leave as part of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act; immigration rights, as part of the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act; police accountability, as part of the Maryland Public Information Act; gun violence prevention, as part of regulation and transfer of firearms; rent court reform, as part of landlord and tenant procedures; and the Fight for Fifteen, the minimum wage bill.
Earned paid sick leave was one of the hot topics of discussion when Ruthanne Kaufman and Claire Landers, both of whom live in Pikesville, had personal visits with their delegates, and Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th) even left a committee meeting to attend.
“That meant a lot to us,” said Landers, 54, a social worker and longtime community volunteer. “I was really pleased to see how open lawmakers were to sitting down, spending time and having a good conversation about the legislation we were there to advocate for. There’s nothing like a face-to-face opportunity for a citizen and the person they’ve elected to represent them to talk.”
The others, Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th) and Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-11th), were also on board with the issues advocated by JUFJ, Landers said. Last month, JUFJ brought 25 constituents to meet with Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin Zirkin (D-11th).
Maya Muñoz, Charley Beller, Tammy Walsky and Ruth Crystal, all of whom live in Baltimore’s 43rd District, the second largest JUFJ Baltimore contingent after Pikesville’s District 11, also visited their legislators.
“I thought we had three good conversations, [with the delegates]” said Crystal, 72, a longtime social justice advocate. “I’m not sure we changed anyone’s mind, but I think we introduced JUFJ to our three delegates in a positive way that they will connect, and it will make it easier for the lobbying that Molly does.”
The Purim gift bags contained hamentaschen, sweets, fruit, grape juice and a facial tissue packet with a sticker that stated the importance of paid sick leave for every individual. The bags, along with a packet filled with documents outlining the priority issues, a note about how each issue related to Jewish text and a description of the lobby night’s connection to the Purim holiday, were distributed to all of the legislators.
“Lobbying can be really intimidating and this is a way to make it really accessible and really fun — put on a silly hat, put on some [Hawaiian] leis,” said Laura Wallace, JUFJ Montgomery County community organizer. “We’re not making light of the issues, but we’re saying this is a way to come together as a community in a hopeful way, in a joyful way, in a way that is very authentically Jewish. We’re basing our work in our tradition and [we] use that opportunity to talk to our legislators.”
Upcoming JUFJ events include Resistance is Local, Organizing for Activism on Sunday, Mar.19, at 11 a.m., and the Social Justice Seder on Sunday, April 2, at 5 p.m. Visit jufj.org for more information.
Melissa Gerr is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
Photos by Melissa Gerr
Top Photo: For its first joint Purim Lobby Night in Annapolis, about 30 Jews United for Justice supporters turned out to lobby at a last-minute, rescheduled event due to the impending storm. Purim gift bags were distributed and productive political discussions with lawmakers took place.
Bottom Photo: Jews United for Justice supporters (left to right) Charley Beller, Tammy Walsky, Ruth Crystal and Maya Muñoz met with Del. Mary Washington (D-43rd) of Baltimore City at the first JUFJ joint Purim Lobby Night in Annapolis.
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