What a year 2020 has been. Each time something has come up, I have heard a few people jokingly say that they did not have “that” on their 2020 bingo card. It seems like we have been faced with more this year than in years past. And for all of these things to take place while we have been faced with a global pandemic is astounding. I feel like all of these events have both heightened our senses or have desensitized us in so many ways.
I share this as we head into the final stretch of the 2020 election cycle. For many, this election is being considered the most important of their lives because of the situation they feel is at hand. For others, there are concerns about what will happen if the election results go one way or another. With this in mind, I would encourage all of us to take a step back, take a breath, and hang on as we are sure to be inundated even more with election-related “stuff” for the next few weeks.
The Jewish Federation, like other non-profits, is prohibited from publicly endorsing political candidates of any kind, because if we did, we would be violating the Internal Revenue Code for 501 (c)3 organizations and this action could result in denial or revocation of our tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. Even if we could, we wouldn’t because we serve as the Jewish voice for our community and cannot provide a unified voice since there are community members who are on all sides of the issues.
However, what I can do is encourage people to vote. But this message has been understood by Jews for a very long time. According to a survey completed last fall by the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, a significant portion of LA Jews do vote. (78% voted in 2016; 71% did so in 2018; this is compared with 65% and 55% of the general LA County voter base for the same two election cycles.)
Jewish involvement in the political process does not end at the voting booth as indicated by other results from the same study. Jewish political activism and engagement is significant. Take a look at these five indicators:
• 96% talk with family and friends about politics
• 77% report having signed petitions or having sent letters
• 62% indicate that they have made political contributions
• 38% attended public meetings or government agency hearings
• 44% indicated that they had participated in a political rally, protest or march
This fervent understanding of the importance of participating in our civic obligation is deeply rooted within our tradition. In Pirkei Avot 2:5, Rabbi Hillel says, “Al tifros min hatzibur.” (Do not separate yourself from the community.) In essence, we need to be engaged in the community we live in since elections have a real and lasting impact on each of us every day.
Plus, many rabbis, sages, and scholars throughout history have framed voting as a mitzvah!
While we will have to wait and see what the results say on November 3 or shortly after, one thing is for sure—the Jewish community will be active participants.
Jason Moss is Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.