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Popsicles, Prayers and Pictures: How Jews Celebrated The Vote In 2018

Two weeks ago, as the midterm elections approached, we asked to hear your voting stories.

“Voting is a habit, a learned behavior, but our culture doesn’t prize it or encourage it,” Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner wrote recently. We wanted to know — who, in the American Jewish community, does prize and encourage civic engagement? How have you celebrated the first vote of someone in your home, school, synagogue, and community? Why is voting important to you, as an American Jew?

And here’s what you had to say:

Jane Shichman
“The first time Lucy went with us to vote was when she was two days old on our way home from the hospital. Today she cast her own vote for the first time!”

Image by Jane Shichman

Dara Horn, Short Hills, NJ:
“My shul, Agudath Israel of Caldwell, NJ, has in recent weeks occasionally augmented the siddur’s “Prayer for our Country” by also reading aloud a slightly edited version of David Zvi Kalman’s “Prayer for the Electorate,” which Kalman created to acknowledge our responsibility for choosing our leaders— as opposed to the traditional prayer which, while adapted for North America, still reflects the prayer’s origins in late antiquity/Middle Ages by merely asking for blessings and divine inspiration for our country’s leaders, without referencing the fact that we choose these leaders.

The traditional prayer reflects a time when diaspora Jews had no ability to choose their leaders and no options but to pray for those leaders to treat them well. This prayer is specifically for voters, asking for divine inspiration for those who choose the leaders.”

Image by David Zvi Kalman

Pete Webb, New York, NY:
“Voting is our sacred obligation … Democratic and Republican Jews should vote in all elections. I am a proud-third generation Republican and center-right voter. I spent last weekend canvassing Long Island with other Jewish Republicans for Congressman Lee Zeldin! It reminded me of the rich diversity within our community and larger society.”

Image by Pete Webb

Peter Perlmutter:
“The first candidate that I worked for was a Republican State Representative, circa 1957 when I was ten years old. I helped my mother fold letters and lick envelopes. Not long after, I performed similar tasks for John F Kennedy, again with my mother’s guidance. So politics and voting came naturally to me: It was and is important, but regarded as a (cliche) civic responsibility, not meriting special attention. I vote and work for the ideals of social and racial justice, civil liberties, economic fairness and peace. And with each passing election, I see the increasing divide between the two major parties and therefore the importance of working harder to keep our country’s – and my traditional beliefs – intact. Recent events, from Charleston to Pittsburgh, Charlottesville and pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats and the vicious verbal attacks on innocent immigrants to Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland are the spurs that remind me daily of the need to work for change.”

Rabbi Jen Feldman, at Kehillah Synagogue in Chapel Hill, NC:
“After Sunday religious school we had a virtual caravan as parents gathered kids and brought them with them to the early voting site. We had over 70+ people. In addition to wonderful modeling for our children, there was also a visible Jewish presence at the polls, evincing our civic pride. Below is a picture of a few of us. Loco Pops, by the way, are a local treat!”

Image by Rabbi Jen Feldman

Susan Wagner, of New York, NY:

Women gather in Susan Wagner’s New York apartment to write postcards to voters in states where Democrats might flip Republican seats in Congress, October 2018. Image by Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner, 60, a retired attorney who lives in Manhattan, has been hosting and attending postcard-writing efforts to get voters to vote Democrat in key races. Susan Wagner told Haaretz about her hosting postcard-writing events:

“It is all the rage now. Groups of women get together over coffee or wine, meet similarly minded people, exchange political information, information about kids, restaurants, shows, museums, much like knitting circles,” she said. “Every generation has its moment when the world as they know it just changes on them overnight: for my grandparents, the Depression; for my parents, Wold War II; for the generation before me, the Vietnam War; for mine, Donald Trump.”

Virginia Gross Levin:
“My grandmother, Maryam Renkoff, was literate in Hebrew and Yiddish, but not in English. Every election day I watched as she painstakingly practiced writing her name in English so that she could sign the register to vote. Abe Cahan had taught her that that is what a citizen did. When I go to vote, and I have been voting for 66 years, I remember my grandmother.”

Sonia Pressman Fuentes:

Inez Milholland Image by wikimedia

“I came to the U.S. on May 1, 1934, and HIAS helped my immediate family and me settle in the Bronx. We fled Berlin, Germany, where my Polish-born parents had lived for 20 years to go to Antwerp, Belgium, where we had cousins. When we could not get permission to remain in Belgium, we came to the U.S…Since 1966, when I was a co-founder of NOW, the passion of my life has been women’s rights. I worked for and knew Alice Paul, the founder of the National Woman’s Party, who has been called the most charismatic person to emerge from the movement for suffrage. I know what the suffragists went through to achieve women’s suffrage in this country: imprisonment under horrible conditions, beatings, marches, and force-feeding. One, Inez Milholland, at the age of 30, even gave her life for the cause. The least I can do to honor their sacrifices is to use the privilege for which they fought.”

Alexis Gordon:

Sophie Ellman-Golan:

Jean Herman:

A 1926 photograph of Jean (Meltzer) Herman (the child on the bottom right), with her parents and older sister. Image by Jean Herman

“My parents were brought to the United States from Europe by their parents when they were young children. I remember as a child seeing my parents on Election Day get dressed up to go vote. My father put on his one suit, shirt, tie, fedora, and polished shoes. My mother wore her best dress, hat and good shoes. Arm in arm, they proudly walked to the polls to cast their votes, a privilege they recognized they would not have had if they had remained in Europe.”

Campuses across the country celebrated voting, thanks to the MitzVote campaign by Hillel.

Hillel International created a digital “voting ritual card,” offering a suggested blessing to recite upon voting:

View this post on Instagram

@princeton_cjl exercising their #mitzvote

A post shared by Hillel International (@hillelintl) on

University of Colorado Boulder Hillel’s MitzVote party Image by University of Colorado Boulder Hillel

Emma Kagan, Ohio State University class of 2019:
“The campus poll party enabled us to celebrate voting at Ohio State. In my opinion, this flips the traditional narrative that voting is a boring or solitary activity and instead reinforces the fact that civic engagement should be celebrated by a community!”

UC Santa Barbara’s Hillel “MitzVote” event Image by Santa Barbara Hillel

Eva Turner, University of Arizona Class of 2020:
“It was really great seeing so much political engagement on a campus that has a history of apathy. People of all political backgrounds came together to celebrate the importance of all participating in the voting process and it was something truly special to see, especially with all of the divide in our society.”

Santa Cruz Hillel’s voting party Image by Santa Cruz Hillel

University of Maryland’s Hillel voting party Image by University of Maryland

The 2018 midterm elections saw a record turnout, with an estimated 113 million Americans heading to the polls, the highest for a non-presidential election in U.S. history. Of course, that’s largely because of the president’s driving both parties to the polls — but also thanks to increased voting education and civic engagement campaigns.

It’s time to start thinking ahead to 2020 (God knows we are) when thinking about how to increase voter turn-out and civic engagement in our communities, and these American voters can serve as a valuable inspiration for us all.

Have an interesting way to celebrate voting in your community? Let us know — [email protected].

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