Being a Sephardic Orthodox Jew isn’t the only thing that separates Dalya Attar from her peers in politics. She has also rappelled down a building for charity.
“I’m terrified of heights, like really terrified, and two years ago I rappelled down one of the tallest buildings in downtown Baltimore to raise money for sick children,” said Attar, who represents the 41st District in the Maryland House of Delegates.
Attar, 29, was born in Baltimore to parents from Iran and Morocco. “There have been for many years Jews living in both Iran and Morocco, and there still are Jews living there, including my uncle and his family who still live in Iran,” she said. It’s a fact about the Jewish community she wishes more people knew.
Attar graduated from the University of Baltimore with a degree in criminal justice and the University of Maryland with a JD. She served as a prosecutor in Baltimore city and then worked in the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center “and was horrified by what I was seeing. Children were not getting the support they need from us. I decided I wanted to help formulate policy as well, and that’s when I considered my options about running for office to do this.”
She resides in Northwest Baltimore with her husband Asaf Mehrzadi, daughter Ilana, 7, and son Aaron, 6.
Why did you get into politics?
I have been interested in the criminal justice field as early as middle school. Around 10th grade, as I continued to pay attention to the news, I became interested in politics. I would complain about things I’d see taking place around me on the news and decided I want to do something.
What was your reaction upon hearing the assembly would end early?
It is unfortunate. Historians say this is the first time session is ending early since the Civil War. Many bills that I have worked on for months cannot move forward because we are ending early. But we are in unprecedented times and keeping us healthy — preventing the spread of this horrifying virus — is crucial.
[Most important to me was] this session I sponsored a piece of legislation known as the PROTECT bill [Public Resources Organizing to End Crime Together]. This is a crucial step to ensure violent offenders with open warrants are incarcerated rather than in our neighborhoods. … I have seen all too often that these individuals commit additional crimes while under supervision. Also, a significant amount of drugs and guns are removed from our streets via traffic stops. Therefore, providing jurisdiction to the State Police to [arrest them] can lead to removing many guns and violent offenders off the streets.
What does your Jewish identity mean to you?
Growing up in my family and attending Bais Yaakov (network of Jewish schools), morals and ethics always came first. “Don’t lie, cheat, or steal” has always been basic in my book. I will not deviate from these beliefs. If I have a doubt whether something is right or wrong, I tell myself the answer is “no.” When it comes to integrity, I err on the safe side.
I look at my religion and my beliefs, not as something that hinders my career and desire to help people, but enhances that ability. Jewish values are a huge asset in politics, guiding me and making it so much easier to represent the people. I train prosecutors and tell them, “Don’t ever lie about a case. It’s not the right thing to do, and nothing is worth taking a chance on your reputation.”
Is there any specific text from the Torah or Talmud that is special to you?
Tikkun olam. It is our duty to take care of all individuals, regardless of race, gender, religion.
If you could meet any figure from Jewish history, who would it be and why?
Sarah Schenirer, the founder of Bais Yaakov. Her story demonstrates that change happens on the ground. One woman, with little fanfare, simply did what needed to be done.