Voting: a Jewish civic duty

By Joshua Yudkin

A recent New York Times article reported that 71% of American voters believe democracy was at risk, but only 7% said it was one of the most important problems our country is facing. Dumbfounded, I reread that statistic and am still wrestling to see the logic. America and our legacy are rooted in democracy.

Our founders wanted to actualize Jesus’ parable and build “a city upon a hill,” or an exceptional nation that would serve as an example for the rest of the world. An example of equality, justice, liberty and perhaps, most importantly, freedom, the American democracy was born. Therefore, as we are American citizens, informed and educated voting, along with contacting elected members, is both our right and responsibility.

The upcoming elections on Tuesday, Nov. 8, are an opportunity for each of us to contribute to safeguarding and impacting our community. It is an opportunity to reflect and identify your priorities, concerns and aspirations. It is an opportunity for us to proactively assert and shape our future. Perhaps due to the shared value of community, our local and greater Jewish community is filled with many examples of civic engagement and leadership.

As a Jewish community, we may be concerned about our community’s physical safety after recent attacks earlier this year. We may be concerned about increasing antisemitism, especially when celebrities like Kanye West serve as an echo chamber for hateful discourse. We may be concerned about the security and well-being of Israel, the modern Jewish nation-state. We may be concerned with the health, rights and inclusion of minority and vulnerable populations that exist both within and without our immediate Jewish community. We may be concerned about the economy, our environment and/or ensuring that we can afford our next meal.

Whether we look in the Tanach in texts like Exodus and Jeremiah, prayers like the Aleinu or the everyday teachings in Jewish schools across the nation, investing in our community, practicing relentless respect and leaving the world a better place than we found it are inherent and timeless Jewish teachings. Civic engagement is a Jewish practice.

From a more secular and sociological approach, Judaism, like democracy, depends on informed and educated participation. While steeped in long histories around the globe, they both are living and evolving practices that are participatory and responsive to the status quo. Prayer, celebrations and mourning, like elections, require community participation.

Identify those issues that get you riled up — we all are passionate and/or concerned about something. Identify the candidates who speak on your behalf. Good policy begins with electing good policymakers — so we have an obligation to vote for those who most closely align with and will protect our values.

Voting requires knowledge. Voting requires courage. Modifying a quotation from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, if we are not better tomorrow than we are today, what need do we have for tomorrow?

Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.

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