My friend and rabbinic colleague, Jim Simon, used to say loudly that if he were made the king of the Jews for just one day, he would promulgate the 11th commandment to be, “Thou shalt read the newspaper every day.” He’s a big believer in the power of a free press and the idea that an informed electorate will make the right decisions about what’s best for the entire nation.
I agree with Jim’s intent. Well-educated people making informed decisions is the fuel necessary to drive the engine of democracy. When people choose their information sources from unreliable and misleading sources, the process can get gummed up, and democracy can be at risk – as it is now.
If I became king for a day, I would immediately invoke my 11th commandment: “Thou shalt vote.” We Jews remember all too well the countless places we lived and struggled in. There was no justice, no representation, no power. We relied on bribes and payoffs, and ransoms to protect ourselves. We had nothing else. We were the hapless objects of history, moved around like pawns on a chess board, or slapped to the side without recourse.
The fact of our powerlessness sometimes rendered us passive. We believed there was no way to alter the trajectory of our lives in the Diaspora. It’s like that moment in the Torah portion Shlach Lecha when the Israelite scouts return from their reconnaissance mission. They tell Moses and the Israelites, “We felt so diminished compared to the inhabitants of Canaan. We must have looked like grasshoppers in their eyes.” Notice that no Canaanite made that comparison. The grasshopper analogy was based on the scouts’ fragile sense of vulnerability. It was about their lack of confidence. They assumed a powerless stance and could not move beyond it.
If the nadir of Jewish powerlessness was the Holocaust, then the life-altering rise to power was in 1948 with the birth of the state of Israel. That event changed everything. The world saw Jews in a brand-new light. More importantly, Jews saw Jews in a new light. We were powerful. We were resolute. No one would mess with us anymore.
It is worth mentioning that Israel’s recent election shows us what happens when the exercise of power becomes hubris. When those in power become arrogant and make decisions without a desire for compromise or collaboration, it creates obstacles to understanding that the other is us. When the smoke clears, the new Israeli government will challenge our values of fairness and our opposition to racism.
To live in an open and free nation is a blessing of profound dimensions. To have a say in our political destiny is still somewhat new for us throughout history. There are 37 Jewish members of the 117th Congress. Of the 37, there are 10 in the Senate and 27 in the House of Representatives — 25 Democrats and two Republicans. All 10 Jewish senators caucus with the Democrats. In the 114th Congress, just 1% of freshmen members were Jews. It’s truly a modern political miracle.
Only it doesn’t happen via miracles. Campaigning is hard, sweaty, backbreaking, and challenging, regardless of the office level. Ask any TBA member who’s run for a local or regional office.
I love this country, I love Massachusetts, and I love my city of residence. I am proud that TBA is a voting site. I don’t vote in the temple’s ward, and I’m sorry. I regard the voting stations like shrines to democracy, a system of government that eschews any co-mingling of church and state. No one is registered to vote by religion or race. All citizens are invited to the table of freedom.
As we all watch the dangerous drift away from democracy in our nation, it is incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to keep the ship of state on the rails. We are, more than ever, called upon to stand and deliver. I already voted for this election. If you didn’t, I hope and pray that you will appear at your respective polling stations on November 8th. I may not be a king, but as a very concerned Jewish American, I exclaim, “Thou shalt vote!”