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To this story in CitizenCast

Welcome to the enhanced audio edition of Seymour Rosenbloom’s story

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Guest Commentary: Of Voting and Atonement

A Philadelphia rabbi’s Yom Kippur message: Your ballot could be the one that preserves the fundamental ideals of America

Guest Commentary: Of Voting and Atonement

A Philadelphia rabbi’s Yom Kippur message: Your ballot could be the one that preserves the fundamental ideals of America

With the final sounding of the Shofar at the end of Yom Kippur, the holiest season of the Jewish year will end Wednesday night. It began on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. For this 10-day period, we have been urged by our tradition to search our moral and spiritual ways, change our direction, and determine to be better people in the new year.

As we evaluate our actions, we are taught to view the moral universe as a balance scale. On one side are human actions that incline the world to good; on the other, those that incline to evil. We should imagine this scale as perfectly balanced between good and evil. Our next deed will incline the scale toward one side or the other.

What a responsibility! Each deed takes on cosmic importance. We must be intentional about what we do. And make our choices with care.

In a similar vein, we are often exhorted to vote in every election. Every vote counts. And one vote can mean the difference between one candidate or the other emerging victorious. We should never say “My vote doesn’t matter. It’s just one vote among hundreds, or thousands, or millions. What difference will I make?” Recent history has taught us how close elections can be. And the potential consequences that even a few votes one way or the other will make.

In this new year, may we ever be mindful that every one of our actions has consequences. Let us act as if our very next deed has the power to incline the world to good or evil.

As I reflect on the importance of my vote, I am conscious of my personal history, as a Jew in America. What has made America different? What has made it a land where our often reviled, persecuted and expelled people have been able to thrive economically, socially and politically?

I am the child of a Jewish immigrant. My father and his family were born in a small Polish shtetl and emigrated in 1914. One of my most precious possessions is the small leatherette folio containing his naturalization certificate. My mother was born in Rochester, New York, but her mother was born in Lithuania, and her father in Ukraine. All my family immigrated to the United States as part of a wave of migration that began in the 1880s, and was truncated by the draconian immigration laws of the mid-1920s.

America was not always hospitable to its Jewish citizens. Housing laws had restrictive covenants. Universities had Jewish quotas. Friends have told me of going on their honeymoon in the 1950s and encountering a sign at the hotel they had reserved saying, “No dogs or Jews allowed.”

We have overcome so much prejudice. We have made America better because of the ability to use our talents.

What made this possible? Whatever prejudices individual Americans may hold, the United States is an idea without prejudice. And through our system of elections, the rule of law, and the Constitution, we have been able to access a fair playing field. It did not come easy. And the battle for inclusion and inclusiveness under the law for all minority groups is still being fought. But we have made enormous progress. And until recently it seemed that the ideal of America was even able to change the minds of individual citizens to be more open-hearted, open-minded, and all-embracing.

But as we prepare to vote five weeks from today, we are mindful that this is no ordinary election. It is not just about candidates who differ on the issues. It is about candidates who differ on the nature of America.

In this election, democracy is under attack. The integrity of elections is under attack. The rule of law is under attack. The Constitution itself is under attack.

As Jewish Americans, we need to recognize that we cannot take our position in America for granted. We cannot believe that it doesn’t matter who wins or loses in this election. Because it could make all the difference in the world.

Let’s be clear. This is not an issue in which both parties are equally culpable. Election deniers, White supremacists and Christian nationalists are found only in the Republican party. It is only in the Republican party that some see the Constitution as a regressive document that will turn back the clock of history on hard-won civil rights for women, racial and ethnic minorities, the LBGTQ community … and, yes, Jews.

In this new year, may we ever be mindful that every one of our actions has consequences. Let us act as if our very next deed has the power to incline the world to good or evil.

And on November 8, let us vote as if our very ballot will be the one that preserves the fundamental ideals that have made America such a great home for Jewish Americans. Our ballot might just be the one!

As the Shofar blasts to conclude Yom Kippur, may we, and our nation, be sealed for a year of moral goodness in which the blessings of “liberty and justice for all” will be secure.

It will all depend on our vote.

Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom served as rabbi of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park for thirty-six years and now holds the honorific position of Distinguished Service Rabbi.

The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who stipulate to the best of their ability that it is fact-based and non-defamatory.



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