Rabbi Deborah A. Hirsch
July 29, 2016
Next Friday, Jews across the globe will usher in the Hebrew month of Av—a month overlaid with sadness and mourning. Tradition teaches it was on Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av that both the first temple in 586 B.C.E. and second temple in 70 C.E. were destroyed. According to tradition, the first temple was destroyed because the Israelites transgressed the first of God’s 10 Commandments and worshipped foreign gods belonging to their pagan neighbors. According to the Talmud, the second temple was destroyed, in part, because people engaged in sinat chinam—baseless, ungrounded hatred—they abandoned the ethical teachings and moral imperatives embedded in Torah. Not only did they forgo their obligations to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger in their midst—they could not even act civilly to one another.
As the republican and democratic conventions are behind us—and the rhetoric—much of which was alarming, hopeful, enraging, sad, inspirational—will give way to commercials that will bombard our senses in the months ahead—we must not lose sight of the values we are taught to hold precious. No matter our political party affiliation, we share in being Americans—holding fast to the freedoms granted to all Americans and preserved in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
By the time we enter the voting booths in November, more than a year will have passed since the first words of the 2016 elections creped into our consciousness. This election year, perhaps more than any in recent memory, has candidates unequivocally at opposite ends of the liberal-conservative spectrum and seemingly dividing the country in two. There is also a strong political riptide hurling America into a sea of change—Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are demanding change in the way America treats its citizens. I will not speak tonight about the candidates’—polar opposite positions on every level, rather, I would like to focus on a change enacted more than 50 years ago that still has not yet been fully realized, perhaps even more alarming, a change that has experienced serious setbacks in recent years, even months. I am speaking of the fundamental right of every American to vote. As Americans we must feel obligated to protect—the right to vote—to ensure that every American has equal access to casting her or his ballot.
Fifty-two years ago, this past June, James Earl Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, were shot dead in Meridian, MS—their crime—they were members of the Freedom Summer campaign, and worked to register black voters in the south. Although the KKK is less active today then it was in 1964—there still is a very inconsistent process regarding registering Black voters in America—a flawed process that can turn the tide of national elections.
In 2013, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that took away parts of the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s—specifically that part of the Act that required states to receive a federal ‘green light’ before changing their voting rules and requirements. The states most impacted by this Supreme Court decision are located in the South. One state that has imposed one of the most stringent voter registration requirements is North Carolina. In 2013, on the heals of the Supreme Court decision, the North Carolina House passed Bill 589—voting requirements that would become law in 2016—just in time for the November. Despite protests from the NAACP and Justice Department, in April of this year, A federal judge upheld the new law and dismissed the complaint by stating that the plaintiffs “failed to show that such disparities will have materially adverse effects on the ability of minority voters to cast a ballot and effectively exercise the electoral franchise.”. Opponents of Bill 589 argued that the new law is unfair to minorities and will impact the vote in North Carolina this November—both on the national and local playing fields. In 2012 when 5 states imposed more stringent voting requirements, Jon Rogowski of Black Youth Projects, wrote the following: “As many as 25 percent of African Americans do not currently possess government issued photo identification, which is likely to reduce the overall number of black voters. Second, because blacks hold photo identification at disproportionately lower rates than whites, new photo ID laws may dilute the influence of black votes and could shift election outcomes in competitive races.”
The North Carolina voting regulations taking effect this year include:
· The elimination of same-day voter registration
· The end of out-of-precinct voting
· Reducing early voting
· Requirement to produce a government-issued ID before casting a ballot
As a point of fact, in, NY, NJ, VT, MA, CT—and many other states--No photo ID is required on election day.
North Carolina, one of the original 13 colonies, a state with 15 electoral votes, has had a most interesting voting record. According to the Website, 270 to win, from 1876-1964 North Carolina was a Blue State and beginning in 1968 (no surprise the election after the civil rights legislation of 1965 was passed)-North Carolina voted strictly Republican until 2008, when Barrack Obama won the state by a mere 14,000 votes—the second closest race in 2008 (just behind Missouri). In 2012, North Carolina was again the second closest race, just behind Florida, and, in that election Mitt Romney beat Obama by about 2%. North Carolina is indeed a battleground state and all of its citizens deserve the right to have their constitutional rights upheld without impediments that are rooted in bias.
The Religious Action Center—the Reform Movement’s voice and conscience in Washington is organizing in partnership with the NAACP, Nitzavim: Standing up for Voter Protection and Participation. Nitzavim—not a random name, rather the name of the Torah portion we read Yom Kippur morning—“Atem N’tzavim ha-yom, kulchem, lifnai Adonai Elohecha…You stand all of you this day before Adonai your God, to enter into a covenant….” Each one of us has the opportunity to assist in this sacred work: Here’s how:
From August 18-20—Reform Leaders will join with NAACP and Reform congregations in North Carolina to be inspired and train in voter registration for Raleigh and Durham. The weekend selected spans the Hebrew date of the 15th of Av—in Hebrew TU B’Av—a holiday that is celebrated today in Israel as a minor holiday of love—a day of uplift during a month of sad commemoration. The intent is to change the tide of impediments for Black voters and assist Blacks to register. We have an opportunity to carry on the work Andy Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, who traveled from New York to MS to help Blacks register to vote, began more than a half-century ago. There are three ways each of us can make a difference. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE REGISTRATION DEADLINE IS FRIDAY, AUGUST 5.
· Travel to North Caroline August 18-20 and participate in what I know will be a moving, inspirational and social justice weekend.
· Participate virtually from home that weekend, if you can’t physically travel to North Carolina. The registration website provides details.
· Help get the vote out here in New York by volunteering from August-November…this can be achieved as individuals or as a congregation.
· On election day, members of the Reform Movement with legal expertise
are encouraged to travel to North Carolina to protect the voting rights of those most vulnerable.
I have already signed up to participate virtually and invite you to check out the RAC’s website to see how you can help. If there are those in the congregation willing to travel to North Carolina—perhaps we can be a Village Temple delegation. Again, please note the deadline to register to participate is Friday, August 5. Registration information including the website link are on the table outside the sanctuary.
It is fitting and appropriate that such an important venture be co-sponsored by the Religious Action Center—for, as one can glean from the RAC’s website, the “1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were drafted in the RAC’s conference room by Jewish, African American and other civil rights leaders.”
We enter this month of Av—remembering those historic events that shook and reshaped Jewish life 2000 years ago. We are mindful that baseless hatred is a cancer that eats away at the goodness of the human soul. Nitzavim—we are commanded to stand up and do justice in our world…May we live our American values and help ensure the freedoms of all Americans—may we not let prejudice and hatred silence our voices or our resolve to do justice. Shabbat Shalom
The Link to the RAC Website and Registration is: