Thomas Kennedy model statue unveiled in Washington County

December 19, 2017

Herald-Mail article about the unveiling of the model for the Thomas Kennedy statue: 

Herald-Mail article

Thomas Kennedy model statue unveiled in Washington County

Washington County state lawmaker Thomas Kennedy's efforts to allow Jews to hold public office was met with defeat for years.

County leaders gathered Monday to celebrate how Kennedy eventually had a profound effect on religious freedom, and they unveiled a statue of him in his honor.

The unveiling of a small preliminary model of the statue follows work by numerous people to establish Thomas Kennedy Memorial Park and the Thomas Kennedy Center, where people will be able to learn about Kennedy's life and his ideals.

The maquette was unveiled during a 4 p.m. ceremony at Hagerstown City Hall that was attended by local and state elected officials, members of Congregation B'nai Abraham on East Baltimore Street, and Toby Mendez, a Washington County sculptor who has created various works across the country and was selected to create a bronze statue of Kennedy.

The maquette shows Kennedy standing in a long coat and holding a hat and a shofar.

A shofar is a horn used in Jewish tradition. When it is blown, it beckons people to be "awakened," Rabbi Ari Plost of Congregation B'nai Abraham told those gathered for the unveiling.

The statue and Thomas Kennedy Park will be in the city-owned Massey property, which is across from the synagogue. The property used to be the site of two blighted buildings that were demolished a couple of years ago.

Tom Riford, who will serve as executive director of the Thomas Kennedy Center, said the statue project will cost about $300,000, which will include landscaping, construction of a plaza, benches, plaques and other work.

Riford declined to say after the ceremony how much money has been raised, noting it could compromise the fundraising process.

He said there have been promises of support "that make us very optimistic."

Hagerstown City Council members set aside $5,000 for the maquette and earmarked about another $30,000 for the project, he said.

Riford said he anticipates breaking ground for the park in the spring and possibly having a ribbon cutting in the summer.

The Thomas Kennedy Center will be in the former so-called Hebrew School next to the synagogue, officials said.

Jews couldn't hold public office in Maryland, which caught the attention of Kennedy, a local member of the state legislature.

Kennedy drafted a law to allow Jews to hold public office, an effort that met with failure for years before it was passed in 1826.

Local officials reflected on how Kennedy's concerns align with today's struggles.

Plost talked about today's world in which people live in a climate of divisiveness and conflict, and how troubles sometimes arise between different religious groups such as Muslims, Jews and Christians.

"We must all hear that call of the shofar," he said.

State Sen. Andrew A. Serafini said people live in a time in which they are told to keep their religion to themselves and make it private.

"That is not what our Founding Fathers wanted," said Serafini, R-Washington.