By Howie Beigelman
Executive director, Ohio Jewish Communities
What’s a Jewish issue? How do we advocate for our communal needs and speak out for our values in an increasingly politically polarized world?
One way that Ohio’s Jewish communities do all of that is through their collective investment in Ohio Jewish Communities (OJC). OJC sits in the somewhat unique space of being the bipartisan advocate for our community in the state capital, the nation’s capital, and, increasingly, in our local areas. The Jewish Community Board of Akron (JCBA) is one of OJC’s member communities and helps support our work.
On a statewide level, OJC created a coalition of groups of other faiths, our Jewish communities, and business and civic leaders to help make Ohio the 14th state in the nation to enact anti-BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) legislation. House bill 476 passed with overwhelming support and in a bipartisan fashion, prohibiting the state from contracting with individuals who engage in BDS discrimination.
Our bill was also the only one of its kind that included an option to positively invest in Israel. We did so through language that increases the amount of specific types of foreign bonds that state and county treasurers may invest in, making that safe investment a win-win for Ohio’s taxpayers as well as Israel Bonds. To date, Israel Bonds has seen over $100 million in new investments, with Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel making several record-breaking purchases and some of the counties, including Summit, increasing their portfolios.
In an age of heightened anti-Semitic threats and assaults online and on the ground, OJC also increases the security posture of our communities. Akron, as well as each of OJC’s seven other Jewish communities, has benefited from several grant programs OJC helped create or expand to “target harden” our communal facilities, help train Jewish schools in safety, and step-up our partnerships and engagement with local and state law enforcement as well as elected officials. On a funding level, this has meant over $5 million for Jewish communal agencies across Ohio. Practically, it means safer communities and more secure institutions
At the federal level this has been primarily through the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Senator Rob Portman has a “seat at the table” and has helped expand a federal grant program specifically for non-profit safety, so that Ohio could see more of those funds. Senator Sherrod Brown has also taken a truly personal interest in our community’s safety and chaired a roundtable soon after the rally and attack in Charlottesville; he is working to support increased federal dollars on community security. Congressman Tim Ryan has a unique role as a member of the Appropriations Committee— one he takes seriously for our community needs.
At the state level, we’ve been fortunate to have allies in Governor Kasich’s entire public safety team, led by Director John Born; Ohio Homeland Security Executive Director Brian Quinn; the Attorney General’s office and BCI, especially Superintendent Tom Stickrath and Assistant Superintendent Karen Huey; and through the Ohio State Legislature, especially Senate President Larry Obhof, Speaker of the House Ryan Smith, and minority leaders, Senator Kenny Yuko and Rep.Fred Strahorn. Akron’s Senator Vernon Sykes and Rep. Emilia Sykes have also been stellar supporters.
At the federal level, OJC partners with Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), and other groups in our advocacy and outreach. We work to meet candidates in every hotly contested Congressional race across Ohio and educate them on OJC’s issues and priorities regarding Israel and international affairs and back here at home.
We also work to connect our elected officials, policymakers, and business leaders to Israel and its thriving entrepreneurial, start-up and social enterprise communities. We aim to share best practices, increase the amount of trade and commerce between Ohio and Israel, and help them see Israel “beyond the conflict.” Several Akron area elected officials have visited Israel and continued their follow up here at home, including State Senator Frank LaRose and House Minority Whip Emilia Strong Sykes.
In addition, we advocate for Jewish day schools, family services, community centers, senior adult services, and youth and on issues like tax policy and Holocaust memorials.
Finally, OJC’s role is the face of Ohio’s Jewish communities and their connector to elected officials and candidates. This past June we were fortunate that candidates from every one of the five statewide campaigns addressed our annual meeting. That role is a bipartisan one and it is our role and goal to work with every policymaker, in every elected office, no matter their party, to build a better tomorrow for every corner of Ohio and to ensure our community’s voice is heard and our priorities are met.
OJC is powered by contributions to JCBA's 2019 Annual Campaign. Please give generously.
Ohio Jewish Communities is the statewide government advocacy, public affairs, and community relations voice of Ohio’s eight Jewish Federations. For further information about Ohio Jewish Communities or to get involved with our work and advocacy, please reach out to Howie Beigelman at email@example.com.