Digging into repasts of omelets and lox as well as their legislative agendas, federal, state, and local politicians packed recent legislative breakfasts held by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington in Maryland and Virginia.
At both events, representatives from the JCRC laid out the organization’s priorities for 2019. Locally, these include obtaining more funds for social services, advocating for security funding at places of worship, working on policies to reform the criminal justice system, and assisting public and private schools. At the state level, the JCRC’s priorities include seeking funds for security, helping the disabled and minorities, standing up to hate crimes, protecting victims of abuse, and funding programs for Holocaust survivors.
Finally, at the national level the JCRC will continue to support health care for all and advocating for Israel, fighting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) as well as Montgomery County Executive-elect Marc Elrich spoke at the Nov. 29 Schmooze and Nosh breakfast at Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac, Maryland.
Both senators vowed to protect the immigrant population and fund security for religious nonprofits. Calling the audience “my extended mishpacha [family],” Cardin spoke out about “the rise of hate here in America and around the world.”
“What we saw in Pittsburgh, I think hits everyone to the core,” he said. “We don’t want to connect the dots, but we know words have consequences.”
Van Hollen was less subtle, telling the 250 people in attendance that he would continue “standing up for our values and sending a very clear message when our president won’t.”
“We’ve got to do a lot better as a country,” he said, referring to an increase in hate crimes and gun violence. “All faiths need to come out together.”
Elrich reminisced about his bar mitzvah some 40 years ago at Beth Sholom before explaining that transportation and education were his highest priorities.
“The Jewish community has been a real partner. You play a significant role in social justice,” he said. “You are going to have an ally in Rockville.” He promised to continue funding security measures for religious institutions and sending a strong message that “hate will not be tolerated.”
On Dec. 12 at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia, looking out at the 200 people attending the JCRC’s first legislative breakfast in the state, Executive Director Ron Halber declared, “Clearly, the Jewish community in Northern Virginia has more than arrived.”
Virginia State Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D), the first woman, Jew, and mother ever elected minority leader in Virginia, called the legislature’s vote to expand Medicaid “the most consequential vote we have ever, ever taken,” adding that more than 300,000 residents now have health insurance. She vowed to work on gun safety this year and other efforts to eliminate the rise in discrimination.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring addressed hate crimes, noting the “frequency with which we see hate turning deadly is deeply upsetting.” Community building, education and partnerships are the best way to ensure that hate “does not exist anywhere in this Commonwealth,” he said. He classified hate to include anti-Semitic graffiti, the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, and people being denied service because of their race or religion.
Keynote speaker Bill Schneider, a former CNN analyst and current professor at George Mason University, unfavorably compared President Trump to his predecessors. The four previous presidents “promised to bring the world together,” said Schneider, and all failed, – but “Trump never promised to be a healer.”
“He saw the divided nation and said, ‘I can make this work for me,’” Schneider said.
Other speakers included Fairfax County Board Vice Chair Penny Gross and Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol. Cristol called Amazon’s decision to locate in Crystal City proof that the area is “a place where people come from all over the world” and that educated, good workers live there.
By Suzanne Pollak
Suzanne Pollak is the senior writer/editor at Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington. She was a reporter at The Courier Post in New Jersey and The Washington Jewish Week, and she now writes for The Montgomery Sentinel.