Jewish Virginians lobby legislators

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is introduced by Michelle "Cookie" Hymer-Blitz, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe is introduced by Michelle “Cookie” Hymer-Blitz, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

Hummus is generally not the first thing people think about when Virginia’s capital comes to mind. However, Richmond is home to the largest production facility of the Levantine food dip in the world.

A group of 150 Jewish Virginians, including 45 from Northern Virginia, recently traveled there to remind state elected officials that Sabra Dipping Co.’s decision to bring more than 500 jobs to the Old Dominion was made possible because of the Virginia Israel Advisory Board – a government agency that incentivizes Israeli companies to locate in Virginia.

“It’s a job engine for the state of Virginia,” said Annandale resident Bob Budoff, 61, of VIAB. “We’ve gotten support from Democratic and Republican governors. They are very enthusiastic about it. It costs them very little and there is a tremendous return on investment.”

Budoff, a JCRC board member and Northern Virginia Commission co-chair, boarded a bus on Feb. 4, departing from the JCC of Northern Virginia for a day trip to Richmond. It was his sixth straight year participating in the 10th annual lobbying event.

“Even though this is an off-year for the budget because their budget is every other year, we still wanted to go down there and talk to them and give them an update on what VIAB is doing so it stays on the radar and they’ll know next year it’s important to fund,” said Budoff.

The first stop for trip participants was St. Paul’s Episcopal Church across the street from the Virginia state Capitol where they ate lunch and heard from Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who will be going on a mission to Israel this year. The governor spoke about bringing business and investment into the state and also the importance of expanding Medicaid, a priority for the governor that has been stifled by the Republican-controlled legislature.

Also giving presentations were Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, also Democrats.

After being briefed by JCRC staff, the Northern Virginia group walked across the street and met with 25 lawmakers, including House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford).

VIAB funding was one of many legislative issues discussed with elected officials, according to Darcy Hirsh, who recently replaced Deborah Linick as director of Virginia government and community relations at the JCRC of Greater Washington.

The top priority was protecting the First Amendment’s establishment clause that requires a separation of church and state in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway that approved prayer at public meetings.

The Northern Virginia Jewish community also advocated in favor of increasing voter access, providing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant children and expanding Medicaid.

“That the governor won’t miss this event annually is evidence of the importance of the Jewish community in Virginia and this day is a wonderful opportunity for Jewish Virginians to have a voice and convey their issues to the government,” said Hirsh.

Virginia Jewish Advocacy Day was sponsored by the JCRC’s of Greater Washington, Richmond, Tidewater and the Virginia Peninsula; American Jewish Committee; B’nai B’rith, Chesapeake Bay Region; Hadassah, Northern Virginia & Potomac chapters; JCC of Northern
Virginia; Temple Rodef Shalom’s Social Action Committee; and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

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