The Jewish Federation of Howard County has formed a Jewish community relations council to advocate for the community’s needs. The council has 17 members, including representatives from eight Howard County synagogues.
While the Howard County federation board voted to create the council in May, the federation didn’t announce the move until an Oct. 15 email to community members.
“Until very recently, there was no centralized mechanism for Howard County’s Jewish community to express its views about issues of concern,” Ralph Grunewald, the federation’s executive director, wrote in the email. The Jewish community relations council will “play a key role by interacting with elected officials, faith groups, coalitions and ethnic groups.”
Grunewald said he expects Howard County’s JCRC to work “extremely closely” with the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington,
“I see us as being a supplement to the work that both the JCRC does in Washington and the BJC does in Baltimore,” he said. “Now we have a third entity that will be able to add value to the Jewish advocacy we’ll be doing in Annapolis with Maryland delegates and senators.”
Betsy Singer Marcus, a Howard County federation board member and chair of the new Jewish community relations council, said she started thinking about how to organize a JCRC in Howard County in the summer of 2017.
“After the Charlottesville incident, I started thinking, ‘What if something like that happens in our community?’” she said. “To be able to respond to issues in our community, it would be helpful to do more community outreach both in and outside of the Jewish community.”
Singer created an ad hoc focus group with other members of the federation and hosted a meeting at her house with David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the national hub for more than 125 JCRCs.
“We got to talking to him about using the JCRC model to enhance community outreach, not only to our own community to find out how they felt about which issues were important, but also to the larger Howard County community,” Singer said.
Asked what the Howard County federation can do with a JCRC that it couldn’t do before, both Grunewald and Singer cited an incident from the 2017-2018 school year during which a Howard County Public Schools student was harassed for being Jewish. After becoming aware of the incident, the federation worked alongside local rabbis to approach school officials and bring awareness to the problem. The federation subsequently held meetings to implement additional procedures to address similar anti-Semitic and hate crime incidents should they occur. Incidents like this one will be handled by the JCRC in the future, they said.
Connor Graham is a reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times, an affiliated publication of the Washington Jewish Week.