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Wes Moore: Maryland should adopt Israel’s public-service ethos

The former nonprofit CEO also pledged to do more to combat antisemitism following a surge in bias incidents

In his first-ever “State of the State” address on Feb. 1, newly sworn in Maryland Gov. Wes Moore pledged to create a service-year program for recent high school graduates to work in public-service jobs. 

If he finds a way to make it work, it would be the first state-level service-year program in the nation. In part, Moore said he is motivated by programs like Americorps and the Peace Corps, although those are meant for people who are a few years out of high school. But Moore also draws on inspiration from outside of the United States. 

“These aren’t pie-in-the-sky ideas. These are evidence-based concepts, and you look at how there are best practices around not just the country, but around the globe,” Moore told Jewish Insider in a recent interview. “Israel has long had a well-planned model for youth engagement.” 

Moore, a Democrat, made the service-year program — which would offer job training and mentorship to participants — a keystone of his gubernatorial campaign. He told JI that seeing the success of a similar service ethos in Israel, where young people are required to either serve in the military or do a year or two of national service, proved to him that it could be done. 

“It’s also how so much of [Israel’s] national leadership, whether it’s political leadership, business leadership, philanthropic leadership, community leadership, comes from that training and comes from that background,” Moore explained. “The thing I’m hoping to also model is the success that we’ve seen for so many people in Israel who have had a chance to participate from their military service.”

The former nonprofit CEO and Army veteran said his own military experience, as a paratrooper in Afghanistan, taught him to look beyond partisanship and other markers of identity to find common ground.

“When I was leading soldiers in combat, I never asked them, ‘What’s your political party?’ It never came up. It didn’t matter,” said Moore. “We had one job and one goal, and my mission was to be able to unify our unit around that singular goal. And so that’s very much the approach that I also want to take to leading the state.” 

Moore has long had close ties with Maryland’s Jewish community, and more than a decade ago he traveled to Israel with the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. In December, weeks before taking office, he told a meeting convened by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington that he hoped to “be very aggressive” in promoting trade between Israel and Maryland. He told JI that strengthening Maryland’s ties with Israel is one aspect of how he’d respond to rising antisemitism in the state, noting that he hopes to “​​think about ways we can continue to expand our deep and unbreakable bond with Israel.” 

Moore’s proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year includes $5 million in additional funding to law enforcement to combat hate crimes, and $1 million available to public and private schools to address and prevent hate crimes. The proposals come as Maryland’s Jewish community, particularly the heavily Jewish Montgomery County outside of Washington, D.C., has faced a recent surge in antisemitic incidents. 

“We’re watching not just a higher frequency of attacks, and when I say attacks, I mean both these physical and also these psychological, these attacks of intimidation that we’ve seen against the Jewish community,” Moore said. “We’ve seen not just a higher level of propensity but also the intensity, they’re more brazen. And I think that the thing that we have to be able to show is that hate does not and will not have a home in our Maryland.” 

He called for “not just using the power of the purse,” referring to the proposed spending on hate crime prevention, but also “​​thinking about legislation around things like access to firearms and weapons, about how that becomes a core component when we’re thinking about public safety, and getting these illegal guns out of our neighborhoods and out of our communities.”

In 2022, the Montgomery County Police Department reported 55% more anti-Jewish bias incidents than the year before. The words “Jews Not Welcome” were written in December on the entrance sign at Walt Whitman High School, a Bethesda school with a large Jewish population, and schools in the region have also reported increased antisemitism graffiti and comments. 

Maryland Del. Joe Vogel, a Montgomery County Democrat, introduced legislation this month to establish a state Commission on Hate Crimes Response and Prevention. When asked about it, Moore did not directly comment on the proposed commission. 

“I’m excited to work in partnership with the legislature to be able to ensure that we have laws that really do respond to the rise of antisemitism that we continue to see,” Moore said.

Moore’s proposed budget includes a cut to BOOST, a state voucher program that allows parents to use state funding to send children to parochial schools, including Jewish day schools. The budget does not eliminate the program entirely; Moore has pledged to allow students who are already receiving funds to continue to do so, and he said he will visit some of the schools where many students receive BOOST funding. 

“There will be a continual educational process for me,” he noted. “These are all still Maryland students, and so as we go through the process of really thinking through the best way to ensure that every single family is getting everything that they need, I feel like for me going in and honoring a commitment to continue to listen and learn, visiting schools is an important part of that process.”

But he remains firmly committed to keeping Maryland on the path to getting rid of BOOST in a few years. 

“The focus that I have, the focus that our administration is going to have, is making sure that we are creating and developing world-class public schools for our students,” Moore said. “It’s nothing against the [private] institutions, because I also know that individuals should be able to afford or allow students to attend those schools. I think that’s perfectly fine. I think the thing that we want to be careful and cautious on is when we’re talking about the utilization of taxpayer dollars towards that.”

Maryland’s legislative session lasts until mid-April. In Moore’s December remarks to the JCRC, he pledged to travel to Israel on one of his first overseas trips as governor. Brittany Marshall, Moore’s senior press secretary, told JI that the governor has “no specific international travel plans at this time.” 

“The governor is currently focused on delivering a successful legislative session in partnership with our legislature for the people of Maryland,” Marshall added.

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