For decades, Baltimore’s black and Jewish communities have been connected by a bond of shared geography and values. Largely because of our city’s history of housing discrimination, our communities have often lived among or adjacent to each other. Baltimore’s black and Jewish communities have by no means always seen eye-to-eye — and Jewish property owners share complicity with other white property owners in our city’s vicious history of redlining — but the bond has endured for generations and formed the bedrock of our city’s core Democratic coalition.
Sadly, this bond has frayed in recent years, and we fear that it will break.
Some in the Jewish community have chosen to rally around leaders who seem to put the Orthodox Jewish community’s needs ahead of those of the broader community or echo the fear-mongering rhetoric more often heard from right-wing Republicans. This is unacceptable. If our proud, resilient city is to overcome its many entrenched, systemic problems, we’ll need a foundation built on the ideal of justice and opportunity for all, rather than on narrow self-interest and fear.
It is notable that of the nine of Baltimore City’s 298 precincts that voted for Donald Trump, three are clustered in heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Northwest Baltimore. These neighborhoods are the home base for Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, the city councilman for the 5th District.
Mr. Schleifer has close ties to the developers who have pushed controversial projects in the district. He was roundly criticized for allegedly steering $50,000 of slots funds to the purchase a new patrol vehicle for Shomrim, the private community watch group that serves heavily Orthodox areas of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, and $265,000 for a new ambulance for Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency medical service. Shomrim, which was the subject of controversy when one of its members was convicted of wrongful imprisonment and assault in the 2010 beating of a 15-year-old African-American boy, was founded by Mr. Schleifer’s cousin Ronnie Rosenbluth.
These precincts are also the home base for Dalya Attar, one of the three Democratic nominees for state delegate from the 41st District. Ms. Attar’s mailers consisted largely of fear-mongering rhetoric. One postcard read “Dalya Attar is the key to stopping Crime, Gangs, and Murder Taking over Baltimore’s Streets” in giant type on one side and four tombstones on the other side above a promise that “Dalya Attar is not afraid to get tough on crime.”
If this sounds like classic Republican rhetoric, that should come as no surprise, since the person crafting Ms. Attar’s message, Chevy Fleischman Weiss, was the communications chair for the Maryland Republican Party for many years. On her public Facebook page, which includes anti-immigrant rhetoric and broadsides against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, Ms. Weiss bragged that the mailings won the election for Attar: “When you have non-cookie cutter mailers with strong messaging, you get on the winner’s list.”
The success of Mr. Schleifer and Ms. Attar seems to be part of a concerted effort by Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community to exert its political power. Ms. Attar’s campaign slogan — “Because Baltimore Belongs to All of Us” — seems to reflect this. And indeed, Orthodox Jews have just as much of a right to organize around candidates that reflect their values as any other group does. But when those candidates seem to work to advance the interests of one particular community at the expense of the broader community, it’s incumbent on all of us to intervene.
There are four candidates vying for three slots as delegates representing the 41st District, Baltimore’s largest. In addition to Ms. Attar, the Democratic Party nominated Tony Bridges and Sandy Rosenberg. Drew Pate is a Green Party candidate who has endeavored to connect with residents in every neighborhood of the district and is running on a progressive platform emphasizing equitable distribution of resources throughout Baltimore.
We encourage all residents of the 41st District to reject isolationism, reject fear-mongering, and reject politicians who seek to divide us. Instead, let’s build bridges between our communities and work together toward a common vision of stronger, healthier, more equitable city. For, as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”