A few weeks ago, before the American Jewish world was shattered by a madman filled with hate and armed with murderous weaponry, I had hoped to focus this time before the midterm elections on the need to consider voting a civic rite of passage worthy of celebration, especially for those doing it for the first time.
The Pittsburgh massacre that left 11 dead, many injured and a community in mourning naturally, tragically, diverted our attention. But it also brought home the need to show up. Show up for Shabbat services a week later, as synagogues around the country were filled beyond capacity. Show up for friends, neighbors, strangers — to grieve, console, protest, hug each other.
And now, show up to vote.
Many of you may have already cast your ballots, and many others are planning to do so in person tomorrow. American Jews tend to have high rates of voting.
Nothing, however, can be taken for granted in our topsy-turvy political moment. No matter how you reacted to the anti-Semitic attack on October 27 — whether you see it as the result of white nationalism empowered by political rhetoric leading back to the President, or you see it as an expression of hatred of Jews that knows no partisan boundaries — there’s a direct connection with the kind of government we have and the kind of nation we want to be.
That is why the Forward is asking our readers to share their voting stories. Why is it important to you right now? What are you doing to celebrate this civic ritual? How did you honor the first time someone in your home, school, synagogue, neighborhood cast a ballot?
Did something unexpected, funny, discouraging, meaningful or thought-provoking happen to you when you voted?
Email your stories to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Vote 2018” in the subject line. Share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #TheJewishVote, and don’t forget to make it public. Do all this by November 10 and we promise to share with you the best our community has to offer.
In the last nine days, the world has seen how Jews mourn. Now let’s show everyone how we vote — with pride, intention and celebration.
Dispatches from Pittsburgh. The Forward sent two reporters to Pittsburgh to cover the shooting and its aftermath, and I asked them both to share some reflections. Aiden Pink got there Saturday night and worked non-stop until Wednesday evening. Here’s what he said afterwards:
“The Jewish impulse to say ‘things could be worse’ makes sense from a historical perspective, though I don’t know how healthy it is in 2018. But still: The first thing that struck me after talking to people the day after the shooting is that it could have been so much worse.
“If the shooting had happened last week, when there was a Bat Mitzvah in the building with hundreds of guests; if there hadn’t been a police station literally a block away from Tree of Life, allowing first responders to stop the alleged gunman from leaving and attacking more Jewish institutions in Squirrel Hill; or even if the shooter, who arrived at the scheduled service start time at 9:45, had known that most Jews don’t bother showing up until much later…. But of course, that meant that the people he killed were the minyan-makers, the stalwarts, the pillars of the community.
“I talked to Israeli trauma experts who had traveled to Pittsburgh, and one of them told me that the strength of the tight-knit community was remarkable. “There is unity like I’ve never seen anywhere,” she said.
“If being so close to everyone else meant that everyone had a connection to one of the victims, it also meant that there were so many people to draw on, both institutionally and individually, to provide support and strength. Sociologists and commentators have for the past decade grown increasingly worried about the atomization of American culture. We can learn a lot from Squirrel Hill about how a community can work, even in the darkest moments.”
Ari Feldman arrived on the scene Thursday morning, and returned to New York City on Sunday.
“This past Friday night in between Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv I listened to the members of New Light Congregation talk about the three of the 11 they lost,” he wrote. “The people who don’t have to be told to be there at 7:30 a.m. every weekday. The one who always dressed sharp. The one who cracked up the rabbi with a joke after services.
“These people go to my childhood synagogue. They probably go to yours, too. I saw them on cold Minnesota mornings when I went to say the mourner’s prayer for my father. They were at my parents’ uf ruf. They founded the synagogue; they were president a million years ago. They’re a concept dating from the Talmud – batlanim, the people who seem to hang around the synagogue, always ready to help make a minyan.
“That truth finally settled on me Friday evening, in the hamische first floor chapel at Beth Shalom. I sat in the back row, trying to hold onto my objectivity. The community resembled people searching their home for a family heirloom — a silver menorah, a Seder plate — that had been stolen by a thief in the night.”
Our Pittsburgh coverage. You can read Aiden’s and Ari’s beautifully told stories and all our coverage here. Just about everyone on the Forward staff contributed in some way to our astonishing array of news and feature stories; editorials and opinion pieces; and contributions from our community network, Scribe.
As of this writing, we’ve published 142 stories about the Pittsburgh attack, which have attracted 674,000 unique visitors to our website. This is how we serve our community.
One of those stories was an interview I conducted with David Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and his wife, journalist Cindy Skrzycki, who live just blocks from the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill. It was David’s idea to run the Jewish mourner’s prayer in large Hebrew letters on the front page of the Post-Gazette. When words fail, he said, “you are thinking in the wrong language.”
#WeAreAllJews. On the Saturday evening after the Pittsburgh attack, I received an email from Dovid Efune, editor-in-chief of The Algeimeiner, with a novel request: Want to write a joint statement responding to this unprecedented anti-Semitism and see if other editors of Jewish publications will sign on?
Now, it’s fair to say that Dovid and I are ideological opposites on many issues facing the Jewish people, but that was the point. If we could agree, then there was a good chance others would, too.
We went back and forth for the next day or so, and by Monday evening found common language, even a common hashtag — #WeAreAllJews. Then we contacted as many editors as we could to ask for their endorsement, and their commitment to run the joint editorial in their weekly print editions.
Those of us on a monthly print schedule posted the editorial online Wednesday at 10 am. All told, 19 of us signed the statement, which read in part:
“As journalists, we hold a variety of opinions about politics in this country and in Israel; the American Jewish community is diverse, and those differences are reflected on the pages of its media.
“In coming together now, we are not erasing those differences, but rising above them, to issue a call for solidarity and respect, and asking our political and communal leaders to do the same.”
Looking forward. Oh, yes, and tomorrow is the midterm election, certainly the most consequential I can remember. Visit forward.com throughout the day and evening for up-to-the-minute news and commentary on Jewish candidates and issues.
On Thursday afternoon, I’ll be analyzing the election results in a webinar organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs along with Stewart Ain of the New York Jewish Week and Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraph Agency. Sign up here to join us.
From the moment we heard the awful news from Pittsburgh, the Forward dropped our pay meter, meaning that all our content was free to read. It was our way of serving the community. We will continue to offer free content through November 7, for that reason.
This column is part of the weekly Jane Looking Forward series. If you would like to receive it in your inbox, here’s the link to sign-up. And, remember to email me at JaneEisnerEIC@forward.com with your questions and concerns. Thank you!
Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, is writer-at-large at the Forward and the 2019 Koeppel Fellow in Journalism at Wesleyan University. For more than a decade, she was editor-in-chief of the Forward, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward’s digital readership grew significantly, and won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.