Maryland State Lawmakers Launch Jewish Legislative Caucus

0

The brand-new Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus kicked off on Jan. 18 with a poignant presentation featuring family members of Israelis still being held hostage by Hamas.

Participating in the kickoff event before the state General Assembly and also meeting with Gov. Wes Moore were Ran and Orly Gilboa, parents of 19-year-old Daniela Gilboa, and Yarden Gonen, the sister of 23-year-old Romi Gonen.

Delegate Joe Vogel (D-17) described Daniela Gilboa as “a talented musician” who graduated high school with honors and “dreams of becoming a famous musician.”

He told the gathered legislators that Orly Gilboa urged them to “imagine if it was your daughter, your little girl in their hands.”

https://www.washingtonjewishweek.com/enewsletter/

Vogel, one of 20 Jewish state legislators who are members of the newly formed Jewish Legislative Caucus, described Yarden Gonen as one of five siblings, “and they say she is the glue that holds them together.” He also noted that she loves “dancing, traveling, spending time with friends and drinking wine.”

But the caucus was not formed for events like this as much as to be a unified voice in Annapolis on Jewish issues. It is chaired by Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-11) and Delegate Jared Solomon (D-18).

Hettleman, of Baltimore County, said she had been thinking of forming a Jewish caucus long before the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7. But after that horrific day and the rise of antisemitism locally and worldwide, “it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

The caucus is still in its infancy and is currently working on bylaws, Hettleman said. She described its purpose as one that will enable her Jewish colleagues to speak with a strong voice on issues that concern the Jewish community.

Members will discuss whether to support or oppose bills that are under consideration, she said.

The caucus also would work together with members of the Assembly’s other caucuses that speak for Black, Latino, Asian American, women and LGBTQ+ communities, to promote civil rights and fight all forms of hate.

Solomon, of Montgomery County, explained that the idea of a Jewish caucus “is something we’ve been kicking around for a while.” Recent events here and in Israel made it more important “to make sure the Jewish people have a unified voice in Annapolis.”

He added, “We will take positions on bills. We will have a list of priority bills.”

Holocaust education is one priority, Solomon said, noting he expects having a unified voice will make a difference in getting courses into the schools.

Delegate Ryan Spiegel (D-17) said he was excited to be a member, noting, “A caucus will really bring us all together.”

He expects the caucus to speak out against antisemitism, work to educate the public and other members of the General Assembly about issues that affect the Jewish community and bolster security at synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish organizations.

While all members of the caucus are Jewish, plans are to invite any state legislator to be an associate member without voting rights, which Solomon called “the norm” among caucuses in Maryland.

The Jewish Legislative Caucus, according to a news release announcing its formation, “will create a structure for caucus members to advocate for the incorporation of the perspectives and needs of Jewish communities in Maryland.”

Some of those issues, according to the release, include combating the rise of hate crimes, protecting and advancing the civil rights and religious freedom of all and improving security measures for all vulnerable communities at risk for hate-based violence.

The caucus members also intend to celebrate Jewish culture and heritage in Maryland and educate the community about the diversity and history of Maryland’s Jewish communities.

Finally, it will serve as a liaison to local, state and national organizations serving Jewish populations, according to the release.

Creation of the Jewish caucus appeared to be warmly received by the political leadership in Annapolis.

“We must acknowledge that this is a particularly fraught moment for the Jewish community here in Maryland, nationally and globally,” said Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson. “As the legislature pursues strategies to combat antisemitism and encourage intersectionality, I look forward to working with the newly formed Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus in that work.”

House Speaker Adrienne Jones said, “The State of Maryland was founded on the principles of religious freedom and tolerance. I am confident that the Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus will uphold this legacy and work diligently to help us combat the rising hate, intolerance, and antisemitism we’ve seen in our communities.”

Members from the Maryland Senate are Brian Feldman, Shelley Hettleman, Cheryl Kagan, Ariana Kelly, Ben Kramer, Karen Lewis-Young, Jeff Waldstreicher and Craig Zucker.

In the House of Delegates, members include Dalya Attar, Jon Cardin, Mark Edelson, Jessica Feldmark, Anne Kaiser, Aaron Kaufman, Marc Korman, Sandy Rosenberg, Jared Solomon, Ryan Siegel, Dana Stein and Joe Vogel.

Suzanne Pollak is a freelance writer.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here