Tag Archives: vote

Voting, Sacred Duty, and, Prayer

Chances are pretty good that most of you reading this have already cast your votes for next week’s election. For those who haven’t, it’s probably fair to say that you have all the information you need to decide how you are voting. And, for those very few who are still undecided, if it’s Ranked Choice Voting (Question 2 in Massachusetts) that you are undecided about, give me a call this weekend if you are interested in hearing a case for #YesOn2.

With the debate over “who to vote for” largely behind us, I’ve been thinking about how we relate to our vote as a sacred civic duty, and contemplating the prayers we say for our governments.

I was recently reminded at a Hartman@Home Symposium of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a singular Orthodox authority and a giant of Torah scholarship; an immigrant who came to New York seeking refuge from the antisemitic oppression of the Soviet Union. Rabbi Feinstein was asked by the New York JCRC in 1984 about the obligation to vote. I still recall the impression that his letter made on me when it was read at my high school. He wrote:

On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.

A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakaras hatov – recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.

Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering as soon as possible, and by voting. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.

I love this articulation of our sacred duty, the sense of obligation to community and to society, the responsibility to protect the freedoms and benefits that our society provides us, and to regard voting as an act of guardianship and appreciation.

In this spirit of the sacred mindfulness we bring to our voting, I appreciated the recent JewishBoston compilation of Prayers for Voting. Different ones will resonate with different folks, so I encourage you to check it out, but allow me to excerpt from a prayer composed by David Seidenberg for My Jewish Learning:

With my vote today I am prepared and intending to seek peace for this country, as it is written: “Seek out the peace of the city where I cause you to roam and pray for her sake to God, for in her peace you all will have peace.”

May it be Your will that votes will be counted faithfully, and may You account my vote as if I had fulfilled this verse with all my power.

Finally, a word about prayers for the government. Whole volumes have been written on this subject, and suffice it to say that Jews have been saying such prayers for some 2,500 years. The prophet Jeremiah began this practice after the loss of  our self-government, to implore God to guide our foreign rulers. Over the last 600 years or so, these prayers evolved and developed in different countries, for the monarch, for the state and in keeping with the spirit of the times and places. Most synagogues in our American diaspora continue to say some form of such a prayer each Sabbath till this day.

And so, in what will be my last blog post before we begin counting the votes this year, let me conclude by offering an excerpt from the “Prayer for the United States of America” that we say in my congregation every week. It was composed in the 1990’s by Dr. Ester Fuchs of Columbia University for the Modern Orthodox think tank, Edah:

God, who commanded all humanity to create just governments, may you preserve and protect our democracy. Bless the elected and appointed officials of the governments of the United States to carry out their duties consistent with the Constitution…

Place in their hearts devotion to justice, truth and equality for all who live in our great nation.

Let their actions reflect compassion for the poor, the defenseless, and the needy among us. Inspire them with the courage to use the might of the United States for good throughout the world…

May this be your will, and let us say, Amen.

These are the prayers that I will be saying this week. I invite you to share yours with me.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Make a Plan of Who to Vote For

With the Massachusetts primary just over two weeks away and with voting already started, I am asked every day by friends and colleagues: “Who are you voting for, and why?”

It’s a fair question. Given my work, I have the privilege of meeting and engaging with almost every leading candidate in each cycle, in our region’s congressional and state races. But this is not a question I will answer. As the leader of a 501c3, my public comments are almost always viewed as an official pronouncement on behalf of our network of member organizations (except, maybe, when it comes to my praise of various comic books). Therefore, I should not and do not endorse candidates.

But what I can share is my process for answering that internal and personal “why.” It’s how I make a plan, before I fill out my ballot, to know who I am voting for. It’s really simple:

  • First, I ask myself: What do I care about in the leaders serving in this particular role? Of course, we at JCRC hold certain values and principles that we work for – on foreign and domestic concerns. I have some personal clarity as a voter that “I would never vote for someone who…” or “the most important thing I’m looking for in a dog-catcher is…”
  • Then, where there is an incumbent running for re-election, I can examine that person’s record: How did they vote, or if an executive office, how did they navigate the big challenges they faced in office? Where did they show up? When were they present or absent?
  • Mostly though, I want to research two things:

    1. What are the positions the candidate espouses? What have they said in their statements and position papers that tell me how they will govern and how they think about the issues that are of concern to me – in their own words. Fortunately, this is so much easier than it was twenty or thirty years ago, thanks to search engines and to candidates’ websites. Their websites also tell me something about their priorities, i.e. the issues they choose to address and feature, vs. other concerns – some of which are very important to me – that they may deliberately make no mention of. In those cases, I ask myself what that absence says about them and my evaluation of them.

    2. Who has endorsed them? Again, in this era, almost every candidate features an endorsements page on their website. This tells me a lot about a candidate. It gives me a sense of what caucuses they might sit in if elected. Who will likely have initial access to them? Who are they likely to be most responsive to on the issues I care about? I can see which advocates of a specific cause or position are putting their own reputations out there to say, “this candidate is the best choice in this race to advance my cause.” That says a lot about a candidate, for me.

It’s not that hard to make a plan for how I will cast my vote. In some races it takes a little more time. For example, in the current congressional race in the MA 4th, researching eight (as of yesterday) democratic and two republican candidates takes a little time – and while I don’t live in this district, since so many members of our community do, I’ll help you all out by including links to all eleven of their websites below.

It is time well spent. As I wrote last week, we know that our vote is our most sacred task to hold government accountable in a democracy. I for one would never vote for someone without doing my due diligence. A couple of hours of effort to inform our role in the myriad tasks and challenges ahead over two, four, or even six years terms is certainly time well spent.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

As an example, the MA 4th primary candidates. These links are to their issue pages, but almost all have endorsement pages on their website banners as well, so check those out while you do your research:

Democrats:

Jake Auchincloss: https://www.jakeforma.com/priorities 

Becky Grossman: https://beckygrossman.com/issues

Alan Khazei:  https://alankhazei.com/vision/

Ilssane Leckey: https://ihssane.org/issues

Natalia Linos: https://www.nataliaforcongress.com/priorities

Jesse Mermell: https://jessemermell.com/issues/

Ben Sigel: https://bensigelforcongress.com/whyimrunning/ 

Chris Zannetos: https://www.chriszforma.com/priorities

Republicans:

Julie Hall: http://hallforcongress.com/

David Rosa: https://www.davidrosaforcongress.com/

The most powerful non-violent tool

I often say that good policy comes from good process. When it comes to the effective functioning of a healthy democracy, good process starts with an engaged electorate that votes.

I’ll keep this one brief because I know you don’t need to be persuaded: In times of crisis and in times of calm, there is no more sacred task than voting. It is, quite simply, the most direct tool we have to hold government accountable to those who are the governed.

This year, like no other, the process of voting involves a few more hurdles; the clearest and most dangerous being the COVID pandemic. Here in Massachusetts, our primary date is unusually early, September 1st, before Labor Day, incurring the risk of many folks “missing” the primary. This year’s primary features several important elections that will likely determine the victors in November as well. The stakes are as high this year as they have ever been.

So, it is very important that we get out the vote ahead of and on September 1st.

“Ahead of,” because due to mobilization by JCRC and our partner advocates, Massachusetts has a new law regarding election safety during the 2020 primary and general elections. This important legislation gives all eligible voters the opportunity to vote early in the primary and general elections, allowing us to vote by mail, and expanding access to absentee ballots. 

“On” September 1st, because time is running out to vote by mail.  Even if you don’t vote early, your vote is vital. There are several races of great interest to our community in Greater Boston, including the state-wide primary for the U.S. Senate, and congressional primaries in several districts with large Jewish populations, covering large parts of Greater Boston, from Sharon, Needham, Newton and Brookline, to parts of the city of Boston, and most of the North Shore.

Our community has values, interests and priorities that will be impacted by the outcomes of these elections. And because this year’s elections amidst COVID are more complicated, JCRC has prepared a comprehensive guide to the voting process in the MA primary, including important dates and instructions for how to vote by mail or vote early. If you want to vote by mail, you need to send in your application, which you should have received in the mail, ASAP.

Of course, while JCRC is a 501(c)(3) and does not endorse candidates or political parties, I encourage you to take the time before you vote, to learn about the candidates and their views on issues of concern to you and our community. For example, in the MA 4th Congressional District (currently held by Rep. Kennedy) you might check out the video of this recent primary debate hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, or this helpful candidate survey compiled by AJC New England. There are other resources as well and I urge you to research the candidates, their positions, and their endorsements before you vote.

As the late Congressman John Lewis, of blessed memory, said:

"I have said this before, and I will say it again. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy."

So please, make a plan to vote, not only in the general election, but in the primary. Tell your friends to vote and share this information widely so that they know how. Ask your congregations and organizations to help get the word out.

There is nothing more urgent right now than our participation in the democratic process, so that we can ensure that our voices will be heard.