Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day Focuses on Holocaust Education and Combating Antisemitism

Senate President Bill Ferguson speaks at the event. Photo Credit to Heather Ross.

More than 250 people traveled to Annapolis from Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Howard County on Feb. 21 for Maryland Jewish Advocacy Day, which took place for the first time since the pandemic struck.

Buses and independent travelers met up at The Graduate Hotel in Annapolis, where they filed into a large, spacious room filled with tall tables labeled by district. Attendees grabbed a folder on their way in and met with their neighbors.

The folders held an overview of the legislative bills the attendees would be advocating for and general guidance on lobbying etiquette.

Attendees advocated for a total of six bills, covering topics from mental health and domestic violence to Holocaust education and combating antisemitism
in schools.

The bills on Holocaust education and combating antisemitism are part of a combined effort to combat antisemitism in Montgomery County Public Schools, according to the JCRC of Greater Washington.

The bills, HB71, SB1058/HB1181 and HB1386, make a three-pronged approach to ensuring that kids are learning about the Holocaust and making certain that teachers are prepared to talk about the Holocaust and antisemitism.

HB71 would establish a $500,000 Holocaust education assistance grant program to better equip schools to teach the difficult material.

SB1058/HB1181 would establish curriculum standards for addressing the Holocaust, and HB1386 would require each employee of public elementary, middle and high school classrooms, as well as nonpublic schools that receive state funding, to be given training on the prevention of antisemitism and Islamophobia each year.

HB1386 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 also 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, 2024.

Hannah Kogul, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and a current senior at River Hill High School in Clarksville, spoke to legislators from personal experience and advocated for HB1181.

“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, a nonprofit 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.
The trip was also an important community-building experience, providing a safe and uniquely Jewish environment for discussion. Two busloads of people arrived from Montgomery County alone, according to the JCRC of Greater Washington.

“It was a great event, bringing people together after COVID,” Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the JCRC of Greater Washington, said.

“I think there’s a good understanding that in order for teachers and administration to counter antisemitism, they need to understand what antisemitism is, what Jewish identity is, what anti-Zionism is,” Franklin Siegel said.

After more than an hour of traveling through Annapolis’ streets and navigating century-old buildings, delegates had another opportunity to mingle with constituents at a reception held back at The Graduate Hotel.

Attendees chatted about current events and enjoyed catered foods until it was time for the evening’s presenters and keynote speaker to take the stage.

The keynote speaker, Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, said this at the reception, “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. 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.”

Ferguson also shared and reiterated a commitment to making sure that Marylanders feel safe in their homes, neighborhoods and communities. ■

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