POTOMAC – About 250 members of the Jewish community listened as federal, state and county politicians pledged to fight hate-based crimes and beef up security at religious institutions during the fourth annual Schmooze and Nosh Legislative Breakfast on Dec. 5.
The two-hour event was held at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac and sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council for Greater Washington (JCRC).
“The story of Montgomery County is really the story of this country,” said County Council Vice President Tom Hucker.
“People still continue to come to come to Montgomery County from over 150 nations, speaking over 170 languages. We have the most diverse county in the nation,” he said.
People come for more than just a good school system and a strong economy, he said.
“Montgomery County always had a reputation where people could come to feel safe, start a family and be part of a great community, a place where your family doesn’t have to have deep roots to succeed.”
However, Hucker said, “since (President Donald) Trump’s election, hate crimes and hate speech have increased. Montgomery County is not immune.”
Therefore, the county must find funds to increase security at religious institutions and schools and hire police, teachers and librarians who speak many languages, he noted.
“The county government doesn’t have endless resources,” he said.
“Our first job, more fundamental than picking up your trash, is keeping all our residents safe,” he said. Hucker then thanked the audience members who work at nonprofits or are social justice advocates, calling them good partners.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) also praised attendees for being involved and working for social justice.
He spoke of the need to spend additional dollars on security, both in Maryland and in Israel, adding that he hoped funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall would not impede budget discussions.
“There is no question that the state of Israel will be in the budget,” he said, referring to money sent to the Middle Eastern country for security.
He also vowed to fight the Trump Administration’s recent changes to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), calling that decision mean-spirited.
Cardin called the rise of anti-Semitism “dangerous,” both here and in Europe.
“You see the same type of legitimacy of hate that you saw before World War II,” he said of the European cities he has visited recently.
“We need to not only speak out, but to act out,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) agreed, noting that the FBI has reported an 11% increase in violence connected to hate crimes.
“We know what we have to do. We know that we have to educate our kids” about the Holocaust, he said.
Both Maryland senators said they favored a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.
Many of the speeches were peppered with allusions to the impeachment proceedings in the U.S. House of Representatives and opposition to Trump.
“I really hope we will be able to come across in a dignified way,” Cardin said of the possible impeachment hearing in the senate.
“I have some strong views about Donald Trump that will not surprise you,” he added.
During the breakfast, Meredith Weisel, JCRC’s director of Maryland government and community relations, discussed the agency’s priorities.
“The security of our community is at risk,” Weisel said.
JCRC is seeking $90 million during fiscal year 2020 for enhanced Jewish communal security. The current federal allocation is $60 million, Weisel said.
Both state and locally, the JCRC is advocating for increased funding to fight hate crimes and to boost security in schools and religious institutions. It also supports criminal justice reform, including community police in the county.
The JCRC wants the state and county to boost funding for private schools for transportation, security and nursing.
Maryland state Sen. Craig Zucker (D-14) and Del. Marc Korman (D-16) both told the audience that the priorities for the Maryland contingency in Annapolis include increased school construction funds as well as an increase to the schools in general.