More than 250 community and political activists converged on Annapolis Feb. 18 for Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day, an annual meet-and-greet for state legislators and members of the local Jewish community.
The three-and-a-half-hour gathering at the Miller Senate Office Building was presented by the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, the Jewish Federation of Howard County, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
Among the political leaders who spoke to Advocacy Day participants was Adrienne A. Jones, the new speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. A Democrat who represents the 10th District, Jones spoke in particular about hate crimes and legislation, among other issues.
“We are witnessing a growing number of incidents of hate and violence,” she said. “House Bill 5 makes hate crimes easier to prosecute [by making it a hate crime to use such symbols as a noose or swastika]. We passed this bill in the House, and we need the Senate to pass it, too. …
“I urge all of you to keep up the great advocacy work that you do.”
Besides combatting hate, the political leaders who met with the attendees spoke about other issues of the day such as protecting the aging community, security to keep the Jewish community safe, and redevelopment projects in Northwest Baltimore and elsewhere.
“Maryland is a strong state, economically,” Comptroller Peter Franchot told the group. “We need people on the frontlines to tell us how Maryland is doing. We learn from them what is going on in the real Maryland.”
Kelly M. Schulz, secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce, agreed. “Jewish Advocacy Day is important for many reasons,” she said. “We work internationally with the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore and the Maryland Israel Development Center. Israel is a wonderful exporter and partner. I know many of the leaders in this room, so this is a good place to thank them for what they do for Maryland.”
Among the attendees were Associated President Marc B. Terrill; Yehuda Neuberger, president of the BJC; Howard Libit, the BJC’s executive director; and Michelle Gordon, the Associated’s chief of Staff.
Also in attendance were Ronald Halber, executive director of the JCRC of Greater Washington; and Ralph Grunewald, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.
Several lay and organizational leaders met in small groups with legislative aides in their offices during Advocacy Day. For example, Neuberger spoke about the need for funding community security at a meeting with Cara L. Sullivan, deputy legislative officer for Gov. Larry Hogan.
“As redevelopment proceeds, we will need increased security to keep our citizens safe,” he said.
At the same meeting, Grunewald described the increased costs for security at Jewish schools, child care centers and synagogues. “But the cost is not in our budgets,” he said
Grunewald and others advocated for the proposed $5 million in the state operating budget for fiscal year 2021 for security for schools, child care centers and religious institutions at risk for hate crimes.
At a meeting with Maura C. Dunnigan, legislative director for Sen. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th), Jeff Rubin, board chair of CHANA, raised the issue of the growing number of cases of physical and financial abuse perpetrated against the elderly. (CHANA is the Jewish communal program that provides crisis intervention, education and consultation to people who experience abuse and other forms of interpersonal trauma.)
Also at that meeting, Robin Belsky, advocacy chair for CHANA, questioned the quality of care provided by unlicensed elder living facilities. “This issue is of great concern,” she said.
Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st) met with the group at a reception toward the end of the evening. He spoke about the redevelopment of Pimlico Race Course, of which he has been a longtime champion.
“We’ve done a good job of stating the case for redeveloping Pimlico and the Northwest Baltimore community,” he said. “[The passage of the Racing and Community Development Act of 2020] looks good. If the bill passes, there’s a tight schedule for actions to be taken.”
The Associated’s Michelle Gordon said she was pleased with the conversations that took place during this year’s Advocacy Day.
“We pride ourselves on the positive relationships with our legislators in Annapolis to ensure the priorities of the Jewish community are met,” she said. “Having the opportunity for dialogue about the issues that are important to us, the bills we support and our funding requests is critical. And our priorities are not just about the Associated, they benefit all of Baltimore and communities throughout Maryland.”
The BJC’s Howard Libit said one-on-one time with leaders in the state capital is critical to the local Jewish community and the political process in general.
“We consistently turn out to show we are engaged and how pertinent it is what our elected officials do.,” he said. “Our presence here means something to them.”
Peter Arnold is a Silver Spring-based freelance writer.
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