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Kol Nidre 2020/5781

09/27/2020 04:33:20 PM

Sep27

Rabbi Rachel M. Maimin

"Dedicated to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, z"l"

Two years ago,

I spent election day as a poll worker,

checking people in

and sending them to the right table to pick up their ballot

at my polling station in Rego Park – in Queens.

I woke up at 4:30 am

and walked the 5 blocks over to PS 206.

I have never been so inspired, exhausted, and disillusioned

by one experience.

Inspired by the lines of people showing up to vote.

Inspired to watch the democratic process in action.

Exhausted because I worked 15 hours without a break.

I was allotted 2 hours of breaks –

but there were not enough poll workers to allow me to take them.

And therein began my disillusionment.

Disillusioned by some of my fellow poll workers,

who made illegal requests to see ID

or who gave out incorrect information about voting locations

or the meaning of a provisional ballot.

Disillusioned by the fact that we had 2 hour lines

because 2 out of 4 of our scanning machines were broken

ALL DAY LONG –

and no one came to fix them.

Disillusioned because people who came on their lunch break,

and stood on line to vote,

ended up having to leave to go back to work

before they could cast their ballots.

 

There are a lot of reasons to feel disillusioned these days.

Just in these 10 Days of Awe:

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The profound lack of justice for Breonna Taylor.

The current leader of our country,

when asked about a peaceful transfer of power,

saying, “we’re going to have to see what happens,”

terrifyingly calling mail-in ballots “a whole big scam.”

There are a lot of reasons to feel disillusioned.

And that disillusionment can lead to anger.

But then what?

What do we do with our anger and our disillusionment,

and how do we ensure that they do not simply translate

into exhaustion and a sense of paralysis?

 

In one of my favorite songs,

Letter to Eve,

Pete Seeger describes exactly this dilemma.

“Don’t you wish love, only love, could save this world from disaster?

Well, if you want to have great love, you’ve got to have great anger.

If you want to hit the target square, you better not have blind anger.”
Oh my,

do I wish love were enough to do it right now.

But,

while it is not sufficient on its own,

love IS a key to shifting from blind anger to righteous anger.

As Ibram X. Kendi posted on Wednesday evening,

after the grand jury chose not to indict any police officers

for the murder of Breonna Taylor,

“To be Black in America

is to walk in the valley of the shadow of pain and death.

The fact that Black people still manage to carry on and create

and find joy and love in the valley

is nothing short of a miracle.

And right now, our love of #BreonnaTaylor is filling us with rage.

Love fuels our rage.”[i]

And I believe that it is not only love that fuels our righteous anger.

I believe it is also our faith.

In the book of Isaiah,

God asks the prophet,

“Who will speak for me?...

Who will remember the covenant of peace and compassion?”

“Can we abandon despair

and find the inner resources to respond like Isaiah,

who said, ‘Here I am, send me?’”[ii]

 

Can we be the ones

who will listen to God’s cry,

in the voice of the persecuted, the forgotten,

the hungry, the needy,

the one whose rights are trampled on?

Can we be the ones

who will take all our sadness and anger and fear

and say, like Isaiah, “Here I am, send me”?

 

7 days ago,

just after the death of Justice Ginsburg,

Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate, wrote:

“America has lost a warrior, and it’s OK to be crushed.

I am flattened.

And I will mourn, because she deserves to be mourned. …

But if you find yourself feeling hopeless and powerless,

then you are emphatically doing it wrong.

Because if anyone had a right to say “nah,”

it was the woman who couldn’t get a job or a clerkship

after graduating at the top of her class.

But she pushed on,

and then she pushed forward.

She stepped into the fight

of the phenomenal women who paved the path before,

and now, well, it’s time to step into her fight and get it finished.

I think the Notorious RBG

would have peered owlishly out at all of us tonight

and asked what the heck we are waiting for.

And I think we can probably honor her best by getting to it.”[iii]

 

I hear echoes of these very words in the Book of Chronicles,

when “King David, on his deathbed, told Solomon,

‘Be strong and of good courage and do it;

fear not, be not dismayed;

for the Eternal God my God is with you.

God will not fail you or forsake you

until all the work for the service of the Eternal is finished.’”[iv]

 

And that sacred work for the service of God,

it is far from finished.

It is so far from finished that

it is overwhelming.

But we simply cannot get stuck in the feeling of powerlessness.

Because we are not powerless,

and that is not an option right now.

Sure, there are things in the world that we cannot change.

But we do have power.

And right now,

our greatest power lies in our democratic process.

Because we can make it better –

there are real, tangible things we can do.

 

First – we can make sure we,

and every single one of our family members and friends,

are registered to vote.

We can make a voting plan,

deciding in advance –

am I going to the polls?
Am I voting early? (Please do if you can!)

Am I voting by mail?
 

Am I dropping off my ballot –

and if so, do I know where my ballot collection box is?

And we can make sure to educate ourselves

not only about national elections,

but about our local and state elections too.

Because our local elected officials,

and the questions asked on our ballots,

impact us every single day.

 

Second,

we can work on voter turnout beyond the circles of those we know.

“We know that there are still so many obstacles

to voting in this nation.

From gerrymandering, to closing polling places, to purging rolls,

to tampering with the mail, to gutting the Voting Rights Act,

(which Justice Ginsburg, in dissent,

described as throwing out your umbrella when it’s raining

because you’re not getting wet) –

some will stop at nothing to deny their fellow citizens

the right to vote,

and to work to maintain power through disenfranchisement

rather than earn it through ideas.”[v]

We can volunteer

through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s

Every Voice, Every Vote campaign –

already,

Temple Isaiah members,

including many of our LEFTY teens,

have sent well over 3000 postcards through this campaign.

Or we can choose our own organizations

through which to volunteer.

Mainly, we cannot stay silent.

Perhaps you’ve been postcarding

or phone or text banking for months or years.

Perhaps you never felt the need,

or felt nervous to give it a try.

Well,

we need look no further than Moses

to find someone who struggled to know how to speak up.

“When called to free the Israelites from slavery,

Moses said,

‘I have never been a man of words,

either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant…”

Filled with a sense of inadequacy,

he begged to be relieved of the enormous burden

of confronting Pharaoh.”[vi]

But Moses didn’t have to do it alone –

he had his brother Aaron alongside him.

So too do we have one another.

We have our Temple family alongside us,

and we can reach out to our friends and family

to postcard and phone and text bank at the same time –

even if we are in different places,

we can do this work together.

 

As Ruth Messinger,

former President and CEO of American Jewish World Service, teaches:

“Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport.

It requires citizens who know their rights,

who step in and speak up,

who are prepared to work over the long haul…

Or, as [the 19th century commentator on America,

Alexis] de Tocqueville warned,

‘Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free,

but nothing is harder to learn how to use

than freedom.’”[vii]

 

 

 

Indeed,

democracy is not and CANNOT be a spectator sport.

There is far too much at stake.

So this year,

“Vote like your health care is at stake.

Vote like your civil rights are on the line.

Vote like the air you breathe is in jeopardy.

Vote like the health of our democracy is in peril.

Because they are.”[viii]

And this year,

let us lift up and follow these words

of the Union for Reform Judaism’s

Resolution on Free and Accessible Elections:

“in the spirit of our forebears

who struggled to enact and fulfill the vision of the Voting Rights Act,

we remain committed to protecting the right to vote

for members of traditionally disenfranchised groups,

such as the elderly, people of color, people with disabilities,

students, [and] formerly incarcerated individuals.”[ix]

 

I’d like to give my final words this evening

to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg –

words she shared at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004:

“The [Jewish] story we re-tell is replete with miracles.

But unlike our ancestors in their Exodus from Egypt,

our way is unlikely to be advanced by miraculous occurrences.

In striving to drain dry the waters of prejudice and oppression,

we must rely on measures of our own creation—

upon the wisdom of our laws and the decency of our institutions,

upon our reasoning minds and our feeling hearts.

And as a constant spark to carry on,

upon our vivid memories of the evils

we wish to banish from our world.

In our long struggle for a more just world,

our memories are among our most powerful resources.

May the memory of those who perished remain vibrant

to all who dwell in this fair land,

people of every color and creed.

May that memory strengthen our resolve

to aid those at home and abroad who suffer from injustice

born of ignorance and intolerance,

to combat crimes that stem from racism and prejudice,

and to remain ever engaged in the quest for democracy

and respect for the human dignity of all the world’s people.”[x]

 

And let us say, Amen.

 

Watch the video here.

 

[i] https://www.instagram.com/p/CFfrikTn3kC/

[ii] Dr. Susannah Heschel, “Foreward”, in Recharging Judaism: How Civic Engagement is Good for Synagogues, Jews, and America, by Rabbi Judith Schidnler and Judy Seldin-Cohen. New York: RJP, a division of CCAR Press. p. viii.

[iii] Dahlia Lithwick, “What Ruth Bader Ginsburg Would Want America to Do Now.” September 19, 2020. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/09/ruth-bader-ginsburg-remembrance-what-now.html

[iv] Ibid p. ix.

[v] Rabbi Daniel Bar-Nahum, Vote Your Values, Rosh Hashanah Sermon 2020.

[vi] Recharging Judaism, p. 117.

[vii] Ruth Messinger, “How Civic Engagement is Good for America.” in Recharging Judaism. p. 229.

[viii] Barbara Weinstein, “Act Now: 3 Vital Ways You Can Help Protect Our Democracy.” September 24, 2020. https://rac.org/blog/act-now-3-vital-ways-you-can-help-protect-our-democracy

[ix] URJ Resolution on Free and Accessible Elections, https://urj.org/what-we-believe/resolutions/urj-resolution-free-and-accessible-elections

[x] Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States. National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance, Thursday, April 22, 2004. https://www.supremecourt.gov/publicinfo/speeches/viewspeech/sp_04-22-04

 

Thu, July 29 2021 20 Av 5781