City of Rockville has apologized in a letter to the Jewish candidates and the Jewish community members for scheduling the candidate orientation on Rosh Hashanah.
Rockville City Council and mayoral candidates were invited to attend the candidate orientation Sept. 16, to help them get acquainted with the city government, operations, responsibilities of elected officials and meet fellow candidates.
In what city officials termed “a grave error” in the letter, the orientation was held on Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish new year and one of the holiest days in the religion.
Jewish candidates, like Adam Van Grack, who may have been attending religious services or celebrating the holiday, were not able to attend the orientation and no alternative date was created for them.
“We have heard and reflected on your disappointment with us, and recognize that we should have known that this cherished Jewish holiday was from September 15 through September 17. There is no excuse for this grave error,” the letter reads. “We deeply apologize to the candidates, and Rockville’s Jewish community for what we recognize was an egregious mistake.”
The letter was written by Barack Matite, Rockville’s acting city manager and Dave Gottesman, the assistant city manager, and was addressed to city councilmember Beryl L. Feinberg, former Rockville mayor Steven Van Grack, City Council candidates Van Grack and Barry Jackson and Ron Halber, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
“Knowing how this act has caused strain for all of you and our Jewish population has given us a wake-up call to be more diligent and deliberate in our continued efforts to be more inclusive as public servants,” the letter states. “We want you to know that we and city staff meant no ill will and we profoundly regret our negligence when scheduling this orientation.”
“To show our commitment to righting this wrong, we will begin the work to create a calendar that marks all religious, cultural, and ethnic holidays and days of observance, requiring that this calendar be used by all city staff when planning any event in Rockville,” the letter states.
Van Grack told MoCo360 that he was unable to attend the orientation on Sept. 16 and instead asked a fellow candidate to take notes for him. On the Monday after Rosh Hashanah, Van Grack said that he was given the candidate orientation packet.
Candidates were invited to the orientation on Aug. 28, according to an email obtained by MoCo360. Shortly after the email was disseminated, Jackson inquired with the City Manager’s office about the orientation’s conflict with Rosh Hashanah.
In Jackson’s email, he wrote that he would be able to attend but worried that others may not be able to due to the event falling on Rosh Hashanah.
“That could be problematic,” he wrote in an email to Linda Moran, an assistant to the City Manager of Rockville.
In an email to MoCo360 Jackson wrote, “I am not of the Jewish faith but I knew the Rosh Hashanah date was going to create a conflict with Jewish council candidates and perhaps city staff and I immediately communicated that to the city staff. … I hope this letter of apology is disseminated widely so the Jewish community is aware of Rockville’s commitment to do better. It is my hope that I will be elected to the next City Council and able to ensure that the City lives up to its commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Before the apology letter, Van Grack addressed his concerns about the scheduling conflict in a Sept. 17 email to Jewish community members and local organizations and then again at a mayor and council meeting on Sept. 18.
“Holding this important orientation on such an important religious day is wholly inappropriate,” he said at the meeting. “Such a conflict should never occur, and no event orientation, or important meetings should be held on this important religious day. As a candidate for city council and a member of the Jewish community, I’m disappointed that the city allowed this scheduling conflict to occur and then I was forced to miss the event.”
Later in the week at Rockville’s State of the City address on Sept. 21, Van Grack said that Matite approached him to apologize.
“He did come up to me and personally apologized for that, letting me know that it was not intentional,” he said. “And as I relayed to him, I never thought that it was necessarily intentional, but it’s something that has to be a consideration when the city is scheduling events.”
Rockville public information officer, Kathy Kirk-Dantzler confirmed that Matite did apologize to Van Grack at the State of the City address Thursday.
Current City Councilmember Feinberg, who is Jewish, told MoCo360 that the City Council and Mayor had no role in the decision to schedule the orientation or approving the orientation date. She said that when she heard about the conflict she was “astonished and astounded at the lack of sensitivity” and called the decision “tone deaf.”
Feinberg is a three-time councilmember, elected in 2013, 2015 and 2019 and is not running for reelection. She told MoCo360 that in the past she has recommended the city create a “master calendar” which includes all religious-based celebrations and holidays, so the mistake does not happen again.
To rectify the conflict, Feinberg said the City of Rockville should offer Van Grack a separate orientation so he doesn’t miss out on any information or recording of the event, in addition she hoped the city would listen to her idea of implementing the master calendar.
MoCo360 was not able to reach Ron Halber, the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) for comment on Friday.
Read the entire apology letter below.