More than 250 Jewish political activists from around the state turned out on Feb. 6 for Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day in Annapolis.

The annual event was planned and hosted by the Baltimore Jewish Council, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the Jewish Federation of Howard County, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

“This year’s event enabled members of Jewish communities from across Maryland to directly meet with their legislators and discuss the issues important to them,” said BJC Executive Director Howard Libit.  “We were pleased that so many members of the General Assembly and the Hogan administration joined our reception following the meetings and got an opportunity to talk with community representatives. We think that this advocacy makes a lasting difference as the important budget and legislative decisions get made over the next two months.”

Among the issues advocated by the Jewish activists were school safety; a new Hillel on the University of Maryland-College Park campus; expansion of hate crime laws; greater domestic violence protection; an extension of health care programs; support for Holocaust survivors; and elder abuse abatement initiatives.

One of the most pressing matters – and the largest in terms of dollars – was a $1 million reduction to the $2 million proposal in Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget for the School Safety Grant Program. Grants of $25,000 and $50,000 would be used for upgrades and security personnel for schools and child care centers around the state deemed at-risk for hate crimes or attacks.

Associated Chair of the Board Linda A. Hurwitz spoke directly and passionately about this matter to Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr.

“We had to take children out of our schools and [Jewish community centers] because of a terrorist threat,” Hurwitz said.  “There has been a 40 percent increase in reported hate crimes from 2015 to 2016, so The Associated spends $750,000 annually for Jewish community security.  We must do everything we can to resist a potential cut of $1 million from this proposed $2 million School Safety Grant.”

In response, Miller said, “I promise we will give you continued support.”

Jewish Advocacy Day

Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st) greets Jewish activists. (Courtesy of Baltimore Jewish Council)

Hurwitz was among a group of Jewish leaders who also met with Mark Stegman, assistant to Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-43rd), chair of the House Appropriations Committee.  Also in attendance was Gil Preuss, the new CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

“Most of the dollars we raise benefit not only Jews but also the wider community,” he said. “The fabric of life in Maryland, and how we strengthen our relationship with the state, makes a strong community for all through philanthropy, business and government working together.”

Stegman responded, “Keep talking and letting us know what we can do for you. Maggie is here to help.  We couldn’t do what we need to do without your help, including making sure we’re taking care of our children and the elderly.”

Another major issue discussed was a $1 million funding request for the new Hillel Student Center at College Park.  The Jewish community is investing between $15-17 million into the new Hillel center and seeking $1 million from the state.  According to Marci Harris-Blumenthal, managing director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, “Many students from out of state get involved in this Hillel and remain in Maryland after they graduate.”

Before a dinner reception, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told the group of Jewish activists, “Advocacy Day is a great opportunity for our community to talk one-on-one with members of the General Assembly.  That personal contact makes a great difference.  I applaud all the folks who traveled from across the state to be here.”

Marc B. Terrill, president and CEO of The Associated, agreed. “This day is an affirmation that our community is in partnership with the state for things that are important to the Jewish community, the city of Baltimore and the entire region,” he said. “It’s heartening to see how this partnership can benefit us all.”

The dinner reception was also attended by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (D-11th), Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th), Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st) and Del. Dana M. Stein (D -11th).

Leaders of the Jewish community in attendance included Abba David Poliakoff, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council; Michael Friedman, president of the JCRC of Greater Washington; Barry Bogage, executive director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center; Todd Schenk, chief executive of the Jewish Social Service Agency in Washington, and Ronald Halber, executive director of the JCRC of Greater Washington.

Also in attendance was Rumbi Mangwende, a Baltimore resident and Western School of Technology junior who is a member of the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel.

“This event is very inspirational,” said Rumbi. “I never knew it could be so easy to get involved in the legislative process, to have a voice.  As an African-American woman, I’m advocating for people in my community to vote for change.”

At the close of the event, Rabbi Craig Axler of Temple Isaiah in Fulton said, “This day is a really important opportunity, and also a responsibility, to nurture these relationships. We are advocating for the needs of our own community and for our values to be reflected by state government, which is to look out for all of Maryland.”

Peter Arnold is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.