Voting is a Mitzvah
Did you know that Jews were not allowed to vote, in any country, until 1789? In Europe, Jews were forbidden to be citizens of any European country until the French Revolution. Here in America, that same year, 1789, was the first American national election and the tiny Jewish community of barely 2,500 souls was allowed to participate. For thousands of years we were marginalized and disenfranchised because we were Jews. We should never take for granted our right to vote.
For Jews, democracy is practically in our DNA. In Bible times, in the Ancient Kingdom of Israel, the opinion of the general population was a deciding factor in selecting new leaders. Rabbi Yitzhak taught that “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Talmud Berachot 55a).
The reason today’s Israeli Keneset (Parliament) has 120 members is because the founders of the modern state were inspired by the ancient Jewish democratic tradition of the “Keneset HaGedola,” (The Great Assembly,”) which was composed of 120 members and was founded in 520 BCE, in response to the vacuum of governance following the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. About 300 years later, electoral reform in the land of Israel led to the creation of the Sanhedrin, a democratic institution that lasted for nearly 700 years until it was shut down by the Christian Byzantine rulers.
For the past 2,000 years Jewish Synagogues have practiced democratic self-government. We have never had a Pope and there is no central hierarchy for our ritual practice. Each community chooses its own leaders and develops its own Minhag (customs).
Democracy, has always been and is, a Jewish thing. This week Israelis voted in their 5th election in four years. Next week is the American election. As your Rabbi, I ask you to vote. We were denied the right to vote in national elections for thousands of years. Every vote matters. Please exercise your civic rights and participate in the democratic process.
Rabbi Hillel taught “Al tifros min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot). This means we have a responsibility to be active in choosing our leaders.
It is a Mitzvah to vote!
The three months I spent in basic training in the Israeli Army was the most grueling experience of my life. The training was not only physical but also mental. The goal of the Israeli Army is to move people from focusing primarily on their individual needs to prioritizing the needs of the group. Even something as simple as sleeping becomes shared. Israeli soldiers only carry a part of a tent to force you to work with others to form a whole tent. Together you become responsible for each other. The Israel Army is intrinsically Jewish in that it teaches communal responsibility for the safety and security of others. Soldiers defend the borders so the young, elderly, and those unable to serve may be safe. My service was neither heroic nor significant, but it was meaningful to me because it taught me to humbly respect and honor Veterans in our community who risk their lives to keep us safe. I have the deepest respect for people who serve in the military and emergency services such as EMTs, Firefighters, Police, and Security like our CSS.
Veterans Day is based on Armistice Day. World War I ended at 11am on November 11th, 1918 (the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month).
Today, on Veterans Day, November 11th, we thank those who risk their lives to keep us safe.
In the spirit of thanking veterans, tonight at the Temple we are hosting two guests from Israel, Shlomi and Uri.
Shlomi Nachumson served in the IDF, and later became a teacher in the Reform Judaism High School in Israel. Our Rabbinic Intern, Ashira Boxman, our B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator, Leah Kadosh, our Director of Education, Stephanie Ben Simon, and I are all graduates of the American Reform Jewish Movement’s High School Semester Program in Israel, now called “Heller High.” I strongly encourage parents to consider sending your teens on this High School Semester Program in Israel. It strengthens Jewish identity like nothing else!
I first met Shlomi Nachumson, an Israeli Veteran, about 20 years ago at Heller High on Kibbutz Tzuba, and knew then he was a great mensch and fantastic educator. Today he is the CEO of the IDF Widows and Orphans association.
Uri Kedar is a young man who tragically lost his father 8 years ago in the Gaza War of 2014. Both Uri and Shlomi will speak about giving love to the families of Veterans, especially those who have paid the highest price to keep us safe.
Please come tonight to thank and honor our Veterans with love.
Rabbi David Wilfond