A crowd of prominent Jewish community members and elected officials from the local, state and federal levels converged on Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Silver Spring on the morning of Dec. 21 for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s annual Maryland legislative breakfast, which was highlighted less by typical legislative agendas and more so through a large showing of support for Israel.
The event featured passionate speeches in support of combating antisemitism, standing with Israel and fighting all forms of bigotry from an all-star cast, including Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, U.S. Rep. Glenn Ivey and JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber.
“Having all our elected officials in the room with the Jewish community and having us present in front of them gives us a unique opportunity with one-on-one time in one location to discuss our issues, but also to show the strength of the Jewish community by the large presence that showed out today,” Halber said after the event.
Halber noted that this year’s event was different than years past, with most of the focus being on Israel and the elected officials voicing their support for the Jewish community rather than going through a legislative agenda relating to local issues.
“Usually, at our legislative breakfast we spend a lot of our time talking about domestic issues, but it’s impossible to ignore the events of Oct. 7. It has shattered the Jewish community in many ways. And that’s the reason why it was discussed over and over again. And that shouldn’t surprise anybody,” Halber said.
After an opening sermon, Halber delivered some remarks and talked about the Oct. 7 attacks and JCRC’s dedication for continued support of the Israeli military response. Halber thanked the elected officials that have continually showed support for the Jewish community and were present at the event.
He spoke about the legislative action that JCRC has been highly supportive of, noting that local government officials have taken steps to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community. Notably, Halber mentioned that Maryland Gov. Wes Moore provided an additional $1 million in security funding for houses of worship and other faith-based institutions.
“Remember the people who are staying with us now as the narrative is changing. That’s what I’m going to say. Never forget anybody who wasn’t with us now. Never forget, never forgive. We express our thanks once again to all our elected officials,” Halber said.
Halber was followed by Lt. Gov. Miller, who spoke about the Moore administration’s current commitment to fighting antisemitism and bigotry and protecting Marylanders against hate. She outlined the administration’s work in providing over $25 million toward anti-hate crime measures and several million dollars to protect faith-based organizations in Maryland.
“Our number one priority is to make sure Marylanders are protected. We will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, or any hate against our brothers and sisters of any faith,” Miller said.
Sen. Cardin also addressed the crowd and spoke about what he and other federal lawmakers have been doing to stand with the Jewish community.
Cardin said that he and several others spoke with President Biden about ensuring that Israel would get whatever it needed to defend itself and to make sure that the U.S. doesn’t leave Israel, declaring that the two countries now stand alone. He also made mention of working diligently to ensure the hostages’ return and said that he’s been meeting with Arab leaders as they continue seeking a resolution to the crisis.
“We’re going to work every day to figure out a path forward so that there can be a future for the Palestinian people and security for Israel. That’s our objective,” he said.
Rep. Ivey took a somewhat different approach to looking at the conflict and the local tensions it’s created, noting that he’s been engaging in a dialogue with people opposed to Israel and the support it receives from the U.S.
Ivey recounted conversations that he had with two different groups. The first one was a crowd of people he described as screaming at him, to the point where his colleagues that belong to the House Freedom Caucus came over to offer him assistance. He said that he tried to have a legitimate conversation with the belligerent group, but they didn’t really listen.
He then spoke about a group of approximately 30 peace advocates who protested outside his office, and he had a dialogue with them after he invited them in. Ivey then offered to come to their church the following week and make himself available to further describe his position and also to listen to what they had to say.
“One of them was Palestinian American. She lost relatives over there. And she talked about some of the family members and other people just to give me a sense of the individual, just to humanize it, and it was very powerful. But the takeaway for me was this. I said, look, I think this was useful that we had a chance to have this kind of dialogue. So, if you want, I’ll come to your church next week and we can continue the dialogue,” Ivey said.
He added that the upcoming election is highly important to make sure that “things go the right way” in order to maintain America’s ability to try and make peace in the Middle East and to work toward a better world.
“It is important for us to remember that we have to engage in that conversation, though people don’t want to hear it, they’re going to be screaming. That’s the push – through that we’ve got to talk to the people who are engaged and can be persuaded and need the information,” Ivey said. “You all know this stuff because you live it. But most Americans don’t. They don’t realize all of the details that are out there. We’ve got to make sure that we get that story out.”
The event ended after several hours of similar conversations about support for Israel and continued condemnation of Hamas. The end result was an event where Jewish community members were able to underscore the issues of importance to them in front of their local elected officials, and the elected officials offered reassurances to the community that their needs are being addressed.
“It’s great having them, especially on issues of Israel and fighting antisemitism. It’s wonderful to have them there. We’re reassured and it helps to strengthen our resolve and filter the optimism that we have so many great allies in the political leadership of this state and county, as well as in the federal government,” Halber said.