August 10, 2011

Friday’s redistricting hearing pushed up to accommodate Jewish Sabbath

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By Barbara Pash
Barbara@MarylandReporter.com

The Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee’s plan to hold public hearings around the state ran into a hitch in the Baltimore metro area. Of the two hearings scheduled there, both conflicted with the Jewish Sabbath, an unexpected problem that has since been resolved by starting Friday’s hearing earlier.

“We weren’t anticipating a problem for anyone” when the 12 public hearings were scheduled in July, said Linda Janey, assistant secretary for communications at the state Department of Planning, which set up the hearings to allow citizen input into the congressional and legislative redistricting.

“We were focused on getting sites that were centrally located and big enough to accommodate the public,” said Janey. The committee was only appointed and began meeting in July.

“It was such a short notice to prepare the sites. We had to work with various venues to determine what days they had available,” Janey said of hearings that began July 23 and will run through Sept. 10.

The Baltimore City hearing was originally scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday at Morgan State University; the Baltimore County hearing at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27 at Towson University.

The Baltimore metro Jewish community numbers about 95,000 individuals. Jews who adhere to Jewish religious law are prohibited from traveling by vehicles during the Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday night and ends at sundown on Saturday night.

Janey said a staff member discovered the conflict. “We were sitting around and one of the staff picked it up. We said, ‘Oh my goodness,’” Janey related, and began immediately trying to fix it.

But it turned out not to be so easy. After coordinating with Morgan State officials and committee members, on Aug. 5 the planning department issued a revised schedule for Friday’s hearing event, bumping up the start time a half-hour, from 7 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. That Friday, Sabbath starts at 7:37 p.m., according to a local congregation’s official calendar. (Sunset is at 8:06 according to the Weather Channel.)

“There is enough time to testify and get home or go to synagogue” before the Sabbath begins, said Janey.

The hearing schedule is not an issue in the Muslim community, according to Fatima Goodwin, with The Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. The Muslim Holy Day runs all-day Friday, the only requirement being that men must come to the mosque for afternoon prayers, the time varying according to the Muslim calendar. The daylight fasting during the month of Ramadan also does not prohibit normal work.

Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, the legislative arm of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, didn’t seem to see it as a problem either, even if the timing hadn’t been changed.

“It’s too bad they scheduled it when they did,” he said of the Baltimore metro hearings, “but there are means to overcome it.” For example, electronic written testimony can be submitted to the committee at any time, “and we intend to do that anyhow.”

The advisory committee is supposed to finish the congressional redistricting plan in September, and the legislature is scheduled to hold a special session to act on it the week of Oct. 17.

  • BaltoCoGal

    I heard about this issue when the MD Republican Party raised it.  I’m glad the committee has responded for Baltimore City, but what about Baltimore and Harford Counties, both scheduled for Saturday?