Nitzavim: Standing Up for Voter Protection and Participation
As we approach the Presidential election this Tuesday, I think we are all experiencing a bit of fatigue. The stakes certainly seem high to all of us in Ohio. Whereas election news is garnering a lot of air time and thought time everywhere, in Ohio, the election has become an entity unto itself. When I moved back to Cincinnati 12 years ago from Massachusetts, I realized the kind of weight and responsibility of living and leading in a “swing state.” In Massachusetts, we never saw commercials or billboards for the Presidential election. In Ohio, one is inundated with political ads. It is exhausting. At times, it is disheartening. But, we might also look at this election as a time to lift up voices and to listen. To speak and to hope.
Through our congregation’s involvement with our movement’s Nitzavim campaign to Stand Up for Voter Participation and Protection, we have come to understand that this election can be a time to try to understand our neighbors, to open up dialogue with those who might be different than us. We are looking at this election as a springboard to build relationships across denominations, religions, race and class so that we might uplift every voice. We are building opportunities and coalitions as we get out the vote and volunteer to monitor polls.
For those of us who have been concerned about racial injustice in our country, this election will be a touchstone. I will vote in Cincinnati, which has been identified as an area most at risk for voter suppression. This election is our opportunity to face some of our own biases and our neighbors’ and to stand up for the right to vote as well as exercising our own obligation to be part of the political process. As Rabbi Yitzhak taught, “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). Our democracy will be measured by access to the polls in the inner cities and by the desire to make a difference.
Our tradition challenges us to embrace pluralism, even when it is difficult; even in a “purple” state. Tosefta Sotah 7:7 teaches, “Make for yourself a heart of many rooms.” On November 9th, this will be the real goal for all of us. We should be like Hillel, who always respected and uplifted Shammai’s voice despite their disagreements. The Talmud teaches that the halacha followed Hillel because “Beit Hillel were kindly and modest, they studied their own rulings and those of Beit Shammai, and were even so humble as to mention the actions of Beit Shammai before theirs” (Bablylonian Talmud Eruvin 13b).
In Ohio, we pray that we argue and vote for the sake of heaven. But we challenge ourselves to move past this election with humility, kindness and respect. And we dream of hearts of many rooms, moving together to lift all voices. That is the true obligation and responsibility of this Election Day and the days to follow.
Rabbi Sigma F. Coran serves Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio.