Baltimore, MD - July 2, 2022 - With primary election fever in the air and with early voting poised to begin in one week, the Vaad HaRabbonim (Rabbinical Council) of Baltimore held a meeting this week to meet and interact with candidates from a couple of key races.

The forum, coordinated by Agudah Maryland, took place at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation and included Orthodox synagogue rabbis and a number of Jewish day school representatives.

With a host of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s gubernatorial race, the top five candidates in most polls were invited to participate and present their vision for Maryland. Three of the five attended: Peter Franchot, Doug Gansler, and Tom Perez; while John King and Wes Moore did not.

As a result of the recent U.S. Census, a robust redistricting effort took place earlier this year on both the congressional and local legislative level.

The Baltimore Jewish community had been contained in the 3rd congressional district for the last several decades. However, as a result of the recent redistricting, the community finds itself divided and completely out of the 3rd district. For the next decade the Baltimore City portion of our community will be in the 7th congressional district and the Baltimore County portion will be in the 2nd. In an effort to acquaint the rabbonim with our new U.S. Representatives, the two incumbents Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (2nd district) and Rep. Kweisi Mfume (7th district) were also invited to the meeting. While Rep. Ruppersberger had committee meetings on Capitol Hill and did not attend, Rep. Mfume was able to rework his schedule to join in the meeting.

On the local level, redistricting took the 11th legislative district (covering the entire County portion of the community outside of Scotts Hill) and split it in two, designating Owings Mills as 11A and Pikesville as 11B. The split granted two delegate seats to 11B and one to 11A. The three incumbent 11th district delegates, Lisa Belcastro, Jon Cardin, and Dana Stein are all Pikesville residents, and thus the three of them are vying for the two seats in the new 11B district. All three were in attendance at the meeting.

Despite the pressure of a campaign season in its final stretch, all seven of the candidates made attending this forum a priority. Each candidate was welcomed by Rav Yaakov Hopfer, the president of the Vaad HaRabbonim, and then introduced by Rabbi Ariel Sadwin of Agudah Maryland. They each had roughly 15-20 minutes to present their vision and to take a few questions from the crowd.

The issues discussed covered a wide range of topics. The gubernatorial candidates discussed their economic visions for Maryland, their perspectives on state funding for the community schools, their support for the continued state partnership with Israel, bolstering crime fighting/prevention, and their views on other issues near and dear to the community. Rep. Mfume shared stories of his long relationship with the Jewish community, dating back to his youth growing up in Baltimore with Jewish neighbors. Among other position he shared, he expressed his strong and principled support for Israel, his vocal distaste for those who falsely label Israel an “apartheid state”, and his concerns with his party’s approach to dealing with the Iran deal.

Finally, the three delegates discussed their past efforts to help the Orthodox community, and their plans going forward should they win reelection. Two particular issues discussed were their desire to further bolster support for nonpublic education, and exploring legislative solutions to bring more school transportation options to the community.

While the conversations with each candidate were fairly intense, the candidates were able to grasp and appreciate the community’s priorities and concerns. Rabbi Sadwin commented, “we are pleased to have been able to meet with the candidates of these key races at this time, to enable the rabbonim and school leaders to hear the issues discussed directly from each candidate.  We are hopeful that the candidates who strive to be the most effective on the matters of our greatest need and concern are the ones who emerge victorious.”