250 Marylanders Participate in Jewish Advocacy Day

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Marylanders meet with state legislators
During Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day, Jewish Marylanders headed to Annapolis to meet with their legislators. (Heather M. Ross)

More than 250 people from across the state traveled to Annapolis for Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day, which took place in person for the first time since the pandemic.

The day, which happened on Wednesday, Feb. 21, was organized by the Baltimore Jewish Council, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, the Jewish Federation of Howard County, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Howard County, JCRC of Greater Washington and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. It saw participants meeting their state senators and delegates and discussing different issues and bills.

At around 4 p.m., busses of community members and independent travelers began arriving at The Graduate Hotel in Annapolis, where participants filed into a large, spacious room filled with tables labeled by district. Attendees grabbed a folder on their way in and met with their neighbors.

The folders contained general guidance on lobbying etiquette and an overview of the six bills the attendees would be advocating for. These bills were H.B. 1386, H.B. 71, S.B. 1058/H.B. 1181, S.B. 753/H.B. 869, H.B. 809 and S.B. 124/H.B. 400, and they covered topics from mental health and domestic violence to Holocaust education and combating antisemitism in schools.

The bills on Holocaust education and combating antisemitism are complementary to one another, according to Bryna Dash, a parent and a vice president of corporate and government sales at Anthology Inc (formerly Blackboard).

Dash, along with eight other community members from District 9, met with Del. Courtney Watson (D-9B) — who represents Howard County — and her chief of staff Tyler Michaels, as well as with Damien Voss Lang, chief of staff to state Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-9) — who represents Howard and Montgomery counties.

H.B. 71, S.B. 1058/H.B. 1181 and H.B. 1386 all ensure kids are learning about the Holocaust and that teachers are prepared to talk about the Holocaust and antisemitism. H.B. 71 would establish a $500,000 Holocaust education assistance grant program to better equip schools to teach the difficult material, while S.B. 1058/H.B. 1181 would establish curriculum standards for addressing the Holocaust, and H.B. 1386 would require employees of public elementary, middle and high schools and of nonpublic schools that receive state funding to be given training on the prevention of antisemitism and Islamophobia each year.

H.B. 1386 would also adjust current requirements for cultural diversity programming in public institutions of higher education to include training on the prevention of antisemitism and Islamophobia. The bill would require the Maryland State Department of Education to assess Holocaust education in elementary and secondary schools across the state and report its findings to the governor and members of the General Assembly by Dec. 31 of this year.

One participant in Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day was a high school senior, who spoke to legislators about her personal experience with antisemitism.

Hannah Kogul, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and a current senior at River Hill High School in Clarksville, was advocating for H.B. 1181.

“Since Oct. 7, my peers and I have dealt with immense antisemitism online and in person, and I think a lot of that comes from the lack of education,” Kogul said. “With this bill, it makes it mandatory to start introducing the Holocaust in the fifth grade and carrying it on into high school.”

Kogul supported her statements with the results of a 2020 survey. The U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, which drew responses from all 50 states, was conducted by the Claims Conference, an organization that works to secure material compensation for Holocaust survivors.

“Eleven percent of millennials and Gen. Z believe that Jews caused the Holocaust,” Kogul said, echoing the survey’s results.

In the survey, Maryland was among the states with the lowest Holocaust knowledge scores.

In addition to being an opportunity for Maryland Jews to advocate for issues important to the community, Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day was also a community-building experience, providing a safe and uniquely Jewish environment for discussion. The bus ride down to Annapolis from Chizuk Amuno Congregation featured a lively discussion of recovered Torah scrolls, family news and current events.

“Showing up as a community is hugely important,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “Lawmakers know that our community cares, and they hear us when we advocate for issues that are important.”

After more than an hour of community members navigating century-old buildings to meet with legislators, they had another opportunity to meet their state representatives at a reception held back at The Graduate Hotel.

At the reception, attendees mingled, chatted about current events and enjoyed catered foods until it was time for the evening’s speakers to take the stage.

The keynote speaker was Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson. Ferguson said that he wants to make sure that Marylanders feel safe in their homes, neighborhoods and communities.

“It is powerful when organizations across the state who have a shared common interest come together for a common agenda. … I want you to please know that it matters,” he said. “It changes our opinions. The time you’ve spent today as part of your respective organizations across the state really does impact the way that we approach our legislative responsibilities.”

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