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The issues really motivating US Jews to vote
By ABBY LEVINE
11/05/2012
When I go into the voting booth, a candidate’s views on Israel’s security help inform my vote, but don’t dictate it.
 
I care about what candidates think about Israel.

When I go into the voting booth, a candidate’s views on Israel’s security help inform my vote, but don’t dictate it.

I am no different than the vast majority of American Jews who, despite what the pundits may tell you, care about many issues – taxes, healthcare, marriage equality.

Israel faces serious threats to its security, and I want answers. But I also want to know how candidates are going to create more jobs. I want to know if their policies unfairly burden the poor. I want to know if their immigration policy is ethical.

For too long, the Jewish community has played into the media’s paradigm of Jews as single issue voters, and we can’t let it continue. With every election cycle comes a new prediction on which way the Jewish vote will swing, and with it, the inevitable reaction of the candidates seeking to court our community by demonstrating their views on Israel to the exclusion of just about every other issue. Buried within the rhetoric will be a passing acknowledgment that Jews also care deeply about social justice issues.

The reality is that local Jewish leaders are coordinating on a national scale to educate, activate and organize voters on the urgent social justice issues keeping us up at night. This type of activism around social justice issues is not new, but today’s coordination between organizations is unprecedented.

Together, we are working to ensure that social justice issues are paramount in press coverage of Jewish voters.

In Maryland, Minnesota and Washington State, Jewish organizations are mobilizing voters to support marriage equality referenda. The Jewish community is organizing candidate forums in St. Paul, house parties in Maryland, and weekly phone banks in Seattle to ask what love, commitment and equality mean to us individually and collectively – and to call for action on Election Day to legalize those rights.

In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, our community is protecting voting rights for all Americans by explaining what kinds of photo identification are – and aren’t – needed to vote.

In Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, in preparation for the onerous voter ID requirements that have now been temporarily suspended, Jews have been combating confusion in Jewish homes, at community events and in the media about the implications of the law and court decisions.

In the Twin Cities, we are sparking hundreds of one-onone conversations in synagogues discussing why a voter ID amendment to the Minnesota constitution would create a hindrance to voting. In Detroit, we are distributing informational posters and volunteering to get out the vote. And in synagogues across the country, Jews are working to make voter registration a rite of passage that is part and parcel to our Jewish faith.

We are acting as a coordinated Jewish social justice movement because we understand that we are stronger together than individually.

We, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, National Council of Jewish Women, Bend the Arc – a diverse, but united, group of 25 organizations in total – share a belief that intrinsic to Judaism is an underlying principle that compels all Jews to pursue justice.

We remember how, after wandering in the desert for 40 years, the Israelites were commanded to contribute to the building of the Mishkan, the Temple. We were told that this communal project, which would unite us as Jews as we entered into the Holy Land, needed a contribution from every one of us. This is joint civic engagement – just as timely today as it was in biblical times.

Like the building of the Mishkan, our American democracy doesn’t work without the basic act of voting.

Just as we were commanded to contribute to the building of the Temple, so must we today contribute to our democratic society by voting and encouraging others to vote. It is our collective Jewish responsibility.

The Jewish community has long been known for our commitment to social justice and yet somehow, we have allowed the perception to develop that it is secondary to our commitment to Israel.

It’s simply not true – one does not and should not diminish the other. We can and should talk about all of these issues, and we should expect our elected leaders to hear us.

This collective responsibility plays out in every American election, with voter turnout rates for the Jewish community consistently well above average. I am excited that so many Jews and Jewish organizations are making their voices heard on issues including marriage equality, immigration, a women’s right to choose, and the economy. As Jews committed to social justice continue to connect across organizations, denominations and issues, I’m counting on a shift in the discourse around Jews and elections in the years to come.

The writer is the director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable.
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