If Matt Peterson, 25, could travel through time, he says would go to Eastern Europe to experience the culture of Jews pre-World War II. As the assistant director of government relations and communications at the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC), Peterson carries his interest for history like this in his desire to write a better future history for Baltimore.
Peterson represents the interests of the Greater Baltimore Jewish community at the State House when Annapolis is in session. He advocates for issues such as sick leave, renewable energy, and resources for Holocaust survivors to stay in their own homes as they age. He also manages BJC communications.
Peterson says he was always fascinated by how government can help people, but “never imagined though that this would put me in the world of faith-based advocacy.”
Peterson was born in Nashville but has lived in Maryland since he was three. Now in Lutherville, he stayed in the Baltimore area because “I really do love it here,” he says. “From the people, to the amazing and unique neighborhoods, to the quirky little things that make Baltimore Baltimore, I love it all.”
What does your Jewish identity mean to you?
To me being Jewish means being a member of the community, whether that is the Baltimore Jewish community, the American Jewish community, or the global Jewish community, I know that there are other Jews that I can always relate to and feel connected to. It means being a responsible citizen, who cares for the planet, and the people on it. I grew up reform and consider myself very culturally Jewish. It defined my upbringing. The Jewish values of tikkun olam, respecting others, and honesty were instilled in me from as early as I can remember. They continue to inform my advocacy work, and my daily life.
Tell us about your time in the Obama administration.
It was nothing short of truly incredible. I was fortunate enough to work in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). I started even before I graduated college. I worked in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations under Secretary Julian Castro. We worked with elected officials to solve issues that their constituents faced. I happened to be at HUD the same time the department rolled out a major consent decree with Baltimore County, that was aimed at desegregating the county’s housing stock. I would hear about it at work during the day and then hear it on local news while commuting back to Baltimore that night. I also learned about the inequities that exist in our country.
After my time at HUD ended, the BJC was hiring a temporary legislative assistant [for the upcoming session]. I knew I wanted to stay in government relations. I loved every minute of that (minus driving to Annapolis). I saw how much work the BJC does, that has nothing to do with being Jewish but more so to better Baltimore. I realized how necessary faith based advocacy is, and for the Jewish community to have a voice in Annapolis. After that session closed, I went on to manage two successful campaigns in Baltimore County. [Later], the BJC had an opening for a full-time position. I was fortunate to be chosen, so here I am about to begin my third legislative session with the BJC.
What is an interesting recent project of the BJC that people may not know about?
We have been working on a program in Park Heights to create a dialogue within the community. It is no secret that there are significant divides in Northwest Baltimore. This past November about 100 members of the greater Park Heights Community came together at the C.C. Jackson Recreation Center. I had no idea what to expect, and could not have been more pleased with the outcome. Readers can learn more about this event, covered by Haydee Rodriguez, on JewishTimes.com.
What is your favorite Chanukah tradition?
This would have to be a tie between three things. First, my family’s annual Channukah party where I get to see pretty much all of my extended family, the second is making latkes from scratch with friends, and finally it is my family’s annual Christmas tradition of volunteering with our synagogue to serve food at Our Daily Bread.