ANNAPOLIS — Jonathan Allen and Ari Schneider normally plan their own lobbying trips to Capitol Hill. But on Tuesday night, the pair of University of Maryland, College Park, sophomores decided to shake things up and head to Annapolis.
Allen, 19, and Schenider, 20, the president of and vice president, respectively, of Terps for Israel, joined about 200 people from the Washington and Baltimore Jewish communities for Advocacy Day, hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Baltimore Jewish Council.
“While we have met with members of Congress and senators, we had really never done anything like this before, so we said, ‘Let’s give it a try and see what happens,’” Schenider said. “It turned out to be a no-brainer.”
It was the first time they had joined another organization’s lobbying trip.
“While I have had access on Capitol Hill and met with members of Congress before, I saw a lot more state delegates and senators walking around very casually,” said Allen. “It was very easy to speak with them just about any issues or topics that are relevant in what’s going around the state.”
The group spent the evening with leaders of the General Assembly from Baltimore City, Baltimore, and Howard and Montgomery counties to discuss issues important to the Jewish community.
These included the state’s efforts to divest itself from companies that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, whether Maryland companies should offer earned sick and safe leave to their workers, and budget items the community would like to see funded.
Delegate Benjamin Kramer, a Democrat who represents District 19 in Montgomery County, said he was pleased to see so many active residents taking an interest in anti-BDS bill he is sponsoring.
The bill would prevent the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System from investing in companies that participate in the BDS movement and also prohibits companies that support BDS from securing state procurement contracts.
“There is a lot of support in the communtiy for this anti-BDS bill, but it is important for my colleagues to hear that. I think we saw that here tonight, so it is important that we have such a strong presence here,” said Kramer, who added he has attended every Advocacy Day since his first full year in the House of Delegates in 2007. “I am hoping a lot of folks here leave energized to take up the initiative and get the message out there.”
In addition to pushing for an issue or project, many people used Adovacy Day as a chance to network and foster relationships with local leaders beyond politics.
“Just being here, living in our Democratic system in ways that it should be experienced, is essential for America,” said Nina Beth Cardin, 63, a community rabbi and Baltimore native. “Democracy is not a spector sport, but it’s a participant activity.”
Linda Hurwitz, 59, a Baltimore native and charirwoman of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said she feels confident Jewish legislators are committed to working on behalf of the community.
Among the issues Hurwitz hopes pan out are the BJC’s budget requests for $75,000 for its elder abuse program and for $350,000 in aging-in-place funding for Holocaust survivors.
“To put a face [to the name] and show a sense of passion with personal opinions means so much more than a one-dimensional piece of paper,” said Hurwitz, who has attended Advocacy Day three times. “My concerns with everyone are from cradle to grave,” Hurwitz said. “We take care of every Jew.”
Those who attended Tuesday also had the chance to listen to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) and Kramer during a dinner reception in Senate Office Building.
“This was a very positive day,” said Ron Halber, execcutive director of the JCRC. “There was strong support on almost wall-to-wall issues for all of our issues.”
Justin Silberman is a staff reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times.