The presidential election is less than two weeks away. Most Americans who are paying attention (believe it or not, not everyone is) are on pins and needles – what will be the outcome? Will there be a peaceful transfer of power? Can we be sure that extremists will not provoke or cause violence if their candidate does not win? Even if the loser bows out gracefully, can we be sure of the results? There are too many points of alarm to count, and I daresay we are feeling overwhelmed, disquieted, and even filled with dread. This, on top of all the other travails, which I need not list here.
In the meantime, in the homey comfort of our Zoom Sanctuary, we have started reading the Torah from the beginning as we do every year at this time. The world has been created, with humanity as its crowning achievement. Within hours of this creation, though, the man and the woman eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, their eyes are opened, and yet another new world stands before them. This new world is unlike the one they were created into – the perfect Eden. In this new world, humans have agency, and they have the power to make decisions for better or for worse. This is a hard world, where men must toil and women must labor in childbirth. “Cursed be the ground because of you,” God says to Adam. “By toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life: Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you….” In this harsh world, humans have the power to make bad choices. And they do.
By the time we meet Noah, the situation has utterly deteriorated: “The LORD saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth…” (6:5-6)
We know what happens from there. God chooses the righteous Noah to shepherd his family and a pair of every species onto an ark. They will be the sole survivors of a deluge that the regretful God will bring, wiping out humankind and ending all life on earth. Creation begins anew, this time with Mr. and Mrs. Noah featured in the role of “first family.”
And so begins humanity’s working relationship with the divine. In another apparent moment of regret, God says, “Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done” (8:21). From here on out, there will be guiding principles to manage a compromise between God’s expectations (remember Eden?) and human nature. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, in a d’var torah this week, unpacks this concept of covenant: “By upholding the human role and making the divinely desired outcomes dependent upon human behavior, God enables human freedom. People must participate in their own liberation or they remain imbued with a slave mentality. If paradise is simply bestowed, humans are likely to remain dependent, or even spoiled children, rather than repair their own world and become mature masters of their own fate.”
Which brings us back to the election. We might think of parashat Noach – this week’s Torah reading, as an imperative to VOTE!! We, Americans, inventors of modern Democracy – one of the most precious gifts ever bestowed on humanity – are inheritors of this secularized version of covenant. We play both parts – God and humans. And the vote is our rainbow – the glorious sign of the covenant that we make with ourselves to “become mature masters of our own fate.”
With less than two weeks to go, perhaps you are looking for a way to quell your anxiety around the election and exercise this maturity – to help pilot the ship of government to its Ararat. With 12 days left to go, there are numerous ways you can get involved. With great thanks to Marsha Zeesman, I offer a few non-partisan options below, including, first and foremost, having a voting plan.
Also, as a delightful (and doubly-topical) diversion from our angst, it’s my pleasure to share with you a new music video featuring our own Cantor Julia Ostrov. This song, “The Ark,” by Julia’s wife Kristen Plylar-Moore, is (per Julia) “a kind of prayer to ride the waters of uncertain times and reach for a land of peace and justice together.” You can find it here:
Finally, please stay tuned for a bunch of exciting programming and classes in the coming weeks. In the meantime, pencil in Sunday evening, November 1st, for a screening of Incitement, a film about the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, the anniversary of which we commemorate that week.
Blessings to all for a Shabbat shalom u’Mevorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.
Rabbi Sam Levine
ELECTION INFORMATION: HOW TO VOTE and HOW TO VOLUNTEER
(N.B.: if you need help getting to the polls, please contact the EMJC office and we will try to arrange help).
1) HOW TO VOTE IN NEW YORK CITY. Go to: https://www.vote.nyc/ to find out where to vote, how to vote, find out about early voting — everything you need to know.
2) MAKE A VOTING PLAN FOR YOURSELF AND HELP FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND NEIGHBORS TO DO THE SAME. Go to this link: https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/voting-rights/ to learn more about how to exercise your voting rights, resist voter intimidation efforts, and access disability-related accommodations and language assistance at the polls. For help at the polls, call the non-partisan Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
3) TALK TO VOTERS IN CRITICAL STATES. The NON-PARTISAN People Power call team is calling tens of thousands of voters every day through November 3 to win for our rights. Click the following link to sign up for a phone bank shift in the next 2 weeks: https://go.peoplepower.org/signup/join-our-people-power-call-team/
4) SIX GET-OUT-THE-VOTE ORGANIZATIONS TO DONATE TO. https://mashable.com/article/organizations-get-out-the-vote-donate/
5) Fair Fight, a group founded by Stacey Abrams, the former candidate for governor of Georgia, is also recruiting election observers, with a focus on battleground states. https://fairfight.com/
6) You can even protect the integrity of the vote from home by volunteering with the nonpartisan group Election Protection, which, among other endeavors, monitors and flags social media for disinformation. Those with legal experience can staff its hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE. https://866ourvote.org/
7) Former Attorney General Holder shared information about the national campaign All On the Line, whose goal is to fight gerrymandering in state and federal courts in 2021 and beyond. Sign up to get involved in the grassroots movement for a fair redistricting process. https://www.allontheline.org/
8) You can also go to the websites of your preferred candidate to explore other get-out-the-vote options (phone-banking and text-banking).