From the Desk of Ralph Grunewald, Executive Director
Until very recently, there was no centralized mechanism for Howard County’s Jewish community to express its views about issues of concern. It was only within the past year that the Jewish Federation of Howard County organized the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which is a committee of the Federation. With representatives appointed by each synagogue and kehila in the county, as well as community members, the JCRC will play a key role by interacting with elected officials, faith groups, coalitions, and ethnic groups.
The JCRC’s Scope
While the JCRC’s committee members are still finalizing how it will operate internally, the main objective is clear: the JCRC will advocate for and promote an array of issues – be they local, national, or international in nature – all guided by Jewish values and precepts.
Indeed, for too long, Howard County’s Jewish community did not have a unified voice in Annapolis, nor when interacting with the Howard County government, the Howard County Public School System, members of Congress, and other decision-makers. This has now been rectified, and Jews in Howard County finally have a representative body that will keep Jewish communal interests and Jewish values front and center when dealing with these officials.
So, too, the Jewish community in the past has often not had a seat at the table within coalition groups on issues that concern us. Through the JCRC, our community is now able to partner with like-minded groups and coalitions on a wide variety of issues.
Soliciting Your Views
But how will the JCRC prioritize its issues? Some will be issues and policies that virtually every other JCRC in the nation has already adopted; they are considered the mainstream views of America’s Jewish community on domestic and foreign issues. (By the way, there are more than 120 JCRCs nationwide; most all of them, like ours, is a committee of the local Jewish Federation. The umbrella agency for the local JCRCs is the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; please review JCPA’s website.) Howard County’s JCRC will be issuing its policy positions in the coming months – and they will be found on a dedicated JCRC page that will be added to our Federation’s website.
In addition, many of you will receive a survey to solicit your views of what the JCRC’s priorities should be. For many of you who are synagogue members, you will be hearing about how you can add your voice about issues the JCRC should focus on. Each representative will approach his or her congregation in the best way that conforms with the given synagogue’s culture of communicating with its members. The synagogues and kehilot that have a representative on the JCRC include:
- Bet Aviv
- Bet Chaverim
- Beth Shalom Congregation
- Calah Congregation
- Columbia Jewish Congregation
- Howard County Board of Rabbis
- Kol Nefesh
- Oseh Shalom
- Temple Isaiah
Other Jewish groups were contacted but opted not to appoint a representative.
The range of possible issues that the JCRC could focus on are varied. They could include immigration, criminal justice reform, poverty and food insecurity, education, voting rights, civil rights, energy and the environment, economic growth, income inequality, and Israel-Palestinian peace. But there are many more. The JCRC members are keenly aware that the committee should not take on too many issues at once and that its work will unfold over time.
Please respond to the surveys and to the congregational representatives when you hear from them so that you can help us shape the JCRC’s agenda moving forward.
Human Trafficking in Howard County
There was one issue that came up at a recent JCRC meeting that took the committee by surprise: that of human trafficking in Howard County. We were joined at the meeting by senior officials from the Howard County Government’s Office of Human Trafficking Prevention, including Sidney Ford, the county’s Human Trafficking Prevention Coordinator. We were all struck that human trafficking is an issue in our county.
Ms. Ford explained that human trafficking is defined by federal statute as “…the recruitment, harboring, transportation provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” Meanwhile sex trafficking is defined by federal statute “…in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act had not attained 18 years of age…” In addition, Maryland state law criminalizes both labor and sex trafficking – though it is a misdemeanor, and not a felony offense, to traffic those 18 years and older (adults) – a law that many are hoping to change in the coming legislative session in Annapolis, with the hopes this will be deemed a criminal offense.
Ms. Ford explained that often girls who are caught up in sex trafficking are ages 11 - 12 and boys 10 – 11; many have run away from home. The average lifespan of a male or female involved in sex trade is six years before they die.
While many children and individuals come from outside Howard County (and foreign countries), many come from within the county and some are victimized in their homes. In Howard County, Ms. Ford said the vice unit and anti-human trafficking efforts are outstanding and considered among the best in Maryland. Victims are often found along Route 1, while others are victimized by their parents.
Meanwhile, and copied here as a public service, Ms. Ford noted that the potential risk factors and behaviors associated with sexual and labor trafficking include:
- Lack of personal safety, isolation, emotional distress, poorly explained injuries, sexually transmitted infections, cigarette burns
- Homelessness, poverty, family dysfunction, loneliness
- Substance abuse, mental illness, suicidality, PTSD (key indicator)
- Developmental delay, childhood sexual abuse, dating violence
- Sexual exploitation of others, lack of social support
- Inability to attend school regularly, unexplained absences
- Repeatedly running away from home, frequent unusual travel
- Aggression, truancy, signs of substance use/abuse
- Sudden changes in personal hygiene, appearance (including unusual tattoos or scars), attire, behavior, relationships or possessions
- Hyper-arousal (anger, panic, phobia) or hypo-arousal (daydreaming, detachment, inability to focus or to bond with others)
Venues where labor trafficking may occur include:
- Massage parlors
- Private homes (maids, nannies)
- Construction sites
- Eldercare / private duty care venues
- Nail salons
- Agricultural settings
- Food processing plants
- Travelling sales crews
Finally, Ms. Ford invited members of the Jewish community to attend a special forum scheduled for Friday, October 26 from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm at Howard Community College. Several former victims and survivors will speak, as well as professionals. Space is very limited and more information is available by clicking on this link.
Your Federation at Work
The creation of the JCRC is but one example of how the Jewish Federation of Howard County helps build our community. We appreciate your continued support so that we can ensure that the JCRC meets its full potential and we can meet the many other needs in our local community and for Jews around the world.