Healing Our Country Begins with the Right to Vote


On Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar, we read from the Prophet Isaiah who insists “the fast I desire is to unlock the fetters of wickedness: to let the oppressed go free, to share your bread with the hungry, to take the wretched into your home, and to clothe the naked.”

Election Day provides us with an urgent and unique opportunity. We can respond to Isaiah’s call by voting — electing officials who will leverage the resources of government to feed, clothe and house the poor and welcome the stranger. We can elect leadership committed to heal the racial divisions in our country, work with allies to promote peace and combat the devastation of climate change. We have the opportunity on Nov. 3 to elect leadership who respect the rule of law and the norms of American democracy.

Voting also enables us to choose leaders who will seek to strengthen the rights of all Americans to vote. The Jewish community stood united in its commitment to pass the l965 Voting Rights Bill. As someone who worked closely with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama, I am horrified by Republican efforts at the state and federal level, in legislatures and the courts, to weaken if not eviscerate the sacred right of every American to vote. Efforts to place multiple barriers along the path to the ballot box must be thwarted.

For large segments of American Jewry, the High Holidays each fall provide a powerful opportunity for deep reflection. On Rosh Hashanah we initiate a journey of self-examination which culminates when we pause and ask: “Who shall live? And who shall die?” And then we plead “inscribe us in the book of Life.” But the Jewish journey has never been only about the inner journey and connecting above. As Isaiah reminds us at our “spiritual high noon” on Yom Kippur, it is also about being deeply engaged with the poor, the oppressed and the stranger.

We are approaching a pivotal election. The choices and implications have rarely been as clear. Issues of health care, the right for women to choose, limiting gun violence, addressing issues of racial justice and climate change and restoring alliances with our allies are all embedded in the choices we will make.

Most urgent and pressing is to elect new leadership committed to renewing and restoring the rule of law and the fundamental norms of American democracy which have been so significant in making it possible for American Jews to live and thrive in the United States.

Every Jewish leader should encourage his or her congregants, students, colleagues, friends and neighbors to vote.

The time is now. The challenge is real. The opportunity for change is at hand. Every Jewish leader should encourage his or her congregants, students, colleagues, friends and neighbors to vote. And each of us should take time in the coming days to encourage and make it possible for others to vote—by making calls, helping young and old access and mail their absentee ballots, driving the elderly or ill to polling stations.

Let us seize the historic opportunity. Let our people go vote.

John Ruskay is executive vice president emeritus of UJA-Federation of New York and a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in Jerusalem