Soon, the Jewish community in St. Louis, Missouri, will inherit one of the Baltimore Jewish community’s most valuable advocates. Madeline Suggs worked as the Baltimore Jewish Council’s director of public affairs for almost four years. She’ll make the move to the Midwest with her husband William, baby daughter Nora and pit bull Murphy later this month.
Although the family has not yet arrived in St. Louis, Suggs began telecommuting as the marketing and communication coordinator for Jewish Family and Children’s Services, a sister organization to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore agency Jewish Community Services, several weeks ago.
“We’re really going to miss her,” said Howard Libit, the executive director of the BJC, “but I know our loss is going to the gain of the St. Louis Jewish community.”
Sugg’s career began in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a national campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation, inform- ing students about their rights under Title IX, and reporting and protecting the student body against incidents of sexual assault.
Suggs moved to Baltimore in 2014 when her husband began studying law at the University of Baltimore. In order to build relationships in her new city’s Jewish community, Suggs contacted Shalom Baltimore, a resource of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore that helps newcomers make connections in the community. When one of those contacts, Dina Cohen, became aware that Suggs was looking for a job, Cohen put her in touch with the BJC.
“I wasn’t looking to work in the Jewish community, but they found me and it ended up being a wonderful fit,” said Suggs.
Art Abramson was the executive director of the BJC when Suggs was hired. At that point, Suggs had no professional experience in Jewish communal relations. Still, Abramson said he never had any doubt Suggs would excel in her role as director of public affairs.
“She was someone who deputy director Cailey Locklair and I thought had what it would take to do a great job. She had that spark,” said Abramson. “And we were not proven wrong.”
Sugg’s colleague Sarah Mersky, director of government relations for the BJC, credits her passion for community relations as a key element in revamping the BJC’s youth outreach.
“She transformed our community relations programs from lectures to face-to-face interactions, including community service events, dinner series and teen social justice fellowships,” said Mersky. “These programs have not only been well received, they have also made a lasting change by expanding our relationships with other faith and ethnic partners.”
Suggs says her seamless transition from advocacy work to Jewish communications has everything to do with her Jewish upbringing. “I was raised learning about tikkun olam and learning different mitzvah projects and trying to give back to the community,” she said. “It felt natural to continue my advocacy work in the Jewish community after leaving the Feminist Majority Foundation.”
As director of public affairs for the BJC, Suggs often coordinated with state legislators, one of whom was Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11).
“She was always a solid advocate for the Jewish community,” said Hettleman. “She’s a great ambassador between the younger folks in the Jewish community and those of us working in the community in a different way.”
In addition to Suggs’ involvement with the Jewish community, Hettlemen expressed gratitude for the work she did in building interfaith community connections and advocating making women fuller, more equal members of the community. “She will definitely be missed.”
Suggs reciprocated the praise she received from her colleagues and leaders at BJC, who she said allowed her the opportunity to try completely new things even when they were unsure of the outcome.
Suggs, however, was not known for bungling projects. Libit credits her outstanding creativity as the focal point of the BJC’s outreach revamping effort including sprearheading the first young families inter- religious dinner between Islamic Society of Baltimore and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and the Interfaith Trialogue, a program that aims to establish common ground among Christians, Jews and Muslims.
“She’s helped people build relationships in new ways that will have a lasting impact on our community,” he said.
“At BJC, we wanted to reimagine how we reach millennials and one of the big steps was to address the issues they cared about,” said Suggs. “We began talking about social justice issues and doing them in places that are more accessible to young parents who can’t take off work.”
Suggs and her husband recently became parents themselves, welcoming Nora into the world in December. Although Nora and her parents will soon reside in St. Louis, she has already made many appearances around Baltimore.
“Its really wonderful to be able to do something I love that also gives me the time to be a mom and do some fun things in the community with my baby before I leave Baltimore,” Suggs said.
Suggs is excited to become better acquainted with the St. Louis Jewish community, which she describes as smaller than Baltimore, but still very engaged. “They’re really passionate about social advocacy,” she said.
“She has a strong conscience when it comes to social justice. The social justice issues really attracted the younger crowd,” said Abramson. “Maddie never faltered. She was someone who always pushed 110 percent into what she did and if she strongly believed in the cause she put 150 percent into it.”