On a cold, breezy Tuesday night in Annapolis, Ralph Grunewald, interim executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, was advocating for $1 million to help fund a new 38,000-square-foot building to house the Maryland Hillel on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.
“College Park is a campus of 6,500 Jewish students. That’s the second-largest in the country,” he said at the Feb. 6 event. “This million-dollar grant would be tremendously helpful for the interfaith work that the Hillel does.”
Provided the new Hillel can be built, the college plans to purchase the current land where the Hillel stands. Grunewald believes the transfer would be mutually beneficial to the school and the members of the Hillel.
Grunewald and representatives from Jewish communities across Maryland gathered for the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s annual Advocacy Day.
Throughout the event, community members met with their delegates to express support for House bills and grant funding. Although the meetings were specific to place of residence, the issues brought to legislators were uniform for all who came to Advocacy Day.
In addition to the Hillel budget item, the Jewish community lobbied for House Bills 246 and 328, which aim to expand the definition of what constitutes hate crimes and domestic abuse, respectively. “The fact that threats are not included in any kind of penalty or tracking is of concern to us,” said Betsy Singer Marcus, captain of the Howard County delegation, about House Bill 246, introduced by Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41).
“This bill would expand the current law to include any threats and attempts to damage or deface or destroy property,” Singer Marcus said. “The current law only assesses real damage. I think that Charlottesville and other incidents bring these to the top of our minds.”
House Bill 328, introduced by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11), calls to “[alter] the definition of ‘abuse’ for purposes of certain provisions of law relating to domestic violence to include misuse of telephone facilities and equipment, misuse of electronic communication or interactive computer service, revenge porn and visual surveillance.”
A second issue related to hate crimes is a fiscal year 2019 budget item that would allocate $2 million for the School Safety Grant Program. In a 2016 report, Maryland State Police acknowledged a 40 percent increase in hate crimes from 2015 to 2016. As schools were listed as one of the top targets for hate crimes, this grant would provide resources such as adding security personnel or maintaining and/or upgrading camera surveillance systems.
Connor Graham is a reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times.