The issues really motivating US Jews to vote
When I go into the voting booth, a candidate’s views on Israel’s security help inform my vote, but don’t dictate it.
Obama, Romney in Israel Photo: Reuters
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.