Even though our democracy is only 246 years old, we can look back in Jewish values from 2,000 years ago to guide our understanding of what so many of us understand as the ‘sacred right’ (or is it ‘sacred rite’; or both) to vote.
Hillel, an early architect of rabbinic thinking who lived in the first century before the turn of the era commented “Al tifros min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5). In his day, separation meant not being a part of the vibrancy of community life. While he didn’t live in a democratic system in which every citizen’s vote mattered, his message is even more powerful for us today: In a time when many are frustrated with the political system, stay connected by voting.
For 100 years, the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, has encouraged informed and active participation in government, worked to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influenced public policy through education and advocacy. Their hundreds of volunteers and members serve the voters in the Pittsburgh area with candidate forums, voter registration, civic education, and advocacy.
Here at the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement of the JCC, our partnership with the LWV is very strong. For years now we have been cosponsoring candidate forums, opportunities to learn more about voting processes (especially during COVID), and helping neighbors talk with each other across their partisan differences. That’s why when the LWV came out with its latest packet of voter engagement information, we took 750 packets. Within days, with thanks to 11 UPstanders, those packets were hung on neighbors doors and placed in public settings across Squirrel Hill and South Hills. The packets included information so that people could register to vote for the primaries and the general elections. It also included important information about voting for voters who are already registered. This non-partisan work is essential for our work in civic engagement.
We understand it in very Jewish ways that transcend our self-interest:
Civic engagement as a Jewish community ensures that our society is better aligned with our values, charging us to call for economic justice, environmental stewardship, and human rights. The ideals laid out in the Torah and proclaimed by the prophets were a guide for the Israelites when we were settled in our land, and with this sovereignty came a spiritual and moral responsibility. The laws of human dignity and justice are scaffolds that are intended to sustain our society. Recognizing the powerlessness of others, we have laws to protect the most vulnerable in our society-the stranger, orphan, and widow.
RECHARGING JUDAISM: HOW CIVIC ENGAGEMENT IS GOOD FOR SYNAGOGUES, JEWS, AND AMERICA, Rabbi Judith Schindler and Judy Seldin-Cohen, 2018.
And so we invite you to:
Learn more about voting on May 17 in the primaries through the League of Women Voters of Pittsburgh.
Register to become an UPstander through the CFLK. This will enable you to take advantage of many opportunities to make a difference across all areas of CFLK involvement including and beyond voter engagement.
This is another way that we are redefining ‘neighbor’ from a geographic term to a moral concept.