Rock the (Jewish) Vote!

“Give ear O heaven… let the earth hear the words…”

In this week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, Moses calls upon heaven and earth to witness this important moment in Jewish history.  According to commentators the use of heaven and earth as witnesses is common in near eastern literature and forms what is called a merism – a mechanism that uses two extremes to signify totality.  Moses is essentially saying that this moment – the moment when he will leave the people in the capable hands of Joshua to continue their journey into the Promised Land – this moment is of universal significance.

We too, are about to be the witnesses to an important moment in history.  In a little over a month, we will once again go to the polls to cast over votes to decide the future of our city, our commonwealth and our nation.  Then entire world will witness our country peacefully hand the winner of each elective contest the authority of office for a prescribed time without a bullet, an arrest or propaganda.  In a world where so many nations are ruled by those that hold onto power by force, we are blessed in this country to have the freedom to make our voices heard.

Witnessing, though, is about more than just watching from afar.  Witnessing is about action.

Many of you are familiar with P.O.W.E.R. – Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild – our multi-faith community organizing initiative.  In POWER’s very name, the word witness signifies that to be a part of this city, to be a part of the rebuilding, we must witness.  We must act.

This season, POWER is focusing its efforts on voter registration and voter engagement.  POWER (with a big P) believes that power (with a small p) comes from our relationships and our ability to turn out voters.  Regardless of who wins the elections, we want to be able to tell our new leaders that we moved thousands of voters and that we are voice worth listening to.  We are a voice that bears witness to those in our city that still do not have jobs that pay a living wage.  We are witnesses to those in our city that face unfair treatment due to race.  We are witnesses to those thousands of children that are not afforded a decent education.

So here’s what you can do to make a difference:

  1. You can still register to vote! The deadline is October 6th.  For more info, check out:
  1. You can vote! Pennsylvania General Election are on Tuesday, Novermber 4th this year.  Go to the polls and make your voice heard!
  1. Most importantly, you can help encourage others to vote! Come to the farmers market on Sunday and help get the word out and look out for more information on how you can help make phone calls to encourage voter turnout.  Also, for more information on how you can be involved, contact Alan Kurz, P.O.W.E.R. co-chair.

A story is told that a Jew approached a famous rabbi in B’nai Brak, Israel and informed him that he did not have the money to pay municipal taxes. At that time in order to vote, one had to pay one’s civic financial obligations. The rabbi directed this man to sell his t’fillin and pay his taxes.

You can borrow t’fillin from someone else, the rabbi explained, but the privilege to vote you cannot borrow from someone else.[1]

Our tradition is clear that to be a member of a community means to raise our voice in choosing leaders.  Although messy and at times painful, democracy is a gift that demands our participation.  It is the means at our disposal to build a more just society, to enact the words of Deuteronomy 16:20 “Justice, Justice you shall pursue.”  November 4th is not simply an election; it is a sacred opportunity to shape a better city, state and nation.  Let heaven and earth and everyone in between witness on that day the opportunity for a better Philadelphia.