18 Million Reasons Why You Should Vote This Election
Do you feel strongly about Israel’s safety, security and the US-Israel relationship?
Do you have concerns about the environment, gun control, or the justice system?
Do you have opinions about how the tax code impacts the economy and your personal finances?
Has the cost of tuition for Jewish day school impacted you or your family and do you have an opinion about the use of tax scholarships to relieve the pressure?
It is hard to believe that you didn’t answer yes to at least one, or some, if not all, of the above questions. Who wouldn’t want to influence how much taxes they pay, the tuition crisis or this country’s strategic relationship with Israel?
Historically, only 40%, less than half of eligible voters, cast a vote in midterm elections. With strong political feelings on both sides and much at stake, pundits are predicting and celebrating a major spike in voter turnout, with some estimates predicting turnout as high as… fifty percent. That still means that despite consequential issues at the center of the upcoming election, half of those eligible will stay home and squander their sacred vote.
Many people sit it out because they think their vote doesn’t matter. In some places and for some elections that may be true, but it isn’t for us. In the year 2000, President George W. Bush won Florida by only 537 votes. Put another way, fewer than the number of people who go the 9:00 a.m. Minyan on Shabbos morning at BRS determined a presidency. That same year a Connecticut congressman won by 21 votes and a Representative from Vermont was elected by a margin of 1. Vote for whomever you see fit, but vote because it matters, particularly here in South Florida.
On October 3, 1984, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, the greatest Halachic authority of America at the time, wrote a responsum regarding the obligation to vote. It says:
On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.
A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakaras ha’tov – recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.
Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering as soon as possible, and by voting. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.
Rav Moshe saw voting as a halachic and moral imperative. To stay home is not just to waste a right and privilege; it is an act of ingratitude. We enjoy a freedom and opportunity so many others are deprived of. The least we can do to say thank you, is to take advantage of that gift.
Showing up to vote is a start, but it isn’t enough. Too many people fail to prepare or choose to be uneducated about the candidates and issues, and instead cast their vote based solely on who has a Jewish sounding name or which party they belong to. But candidates are people with personalities, ideas, positions, and platforms. They undoubtedly worked hard to raise money and likely gave of their own capital to fund their campaign. They seek to make a difference, and whether or not they will be elected and realize their dream of public service depends entirely on the people who come to cast a vote. How could we determine someone’s fate so callously? Similarly, our ballot includes numerous proposed amendments to our state Constitution, some of which have a direct impact on our finances, our rights, and our lives. At the end of the day, how could we determine our own fate and what the election results will mean for us so flippantly and frivolously?
We are given a gift of inestimable value, a chance that others, including many of our ancestors, could only dream of: the opportunity to vote, to make choices, and to have a voice. Squandering it is not just a lack of gratitude for the blessing of this country and the freedom it affords us, it is just irresponsible, and even worse it is foolish. These issues matter to us and we can impact them positively.
This weekend at BRS is dedicated to Teach Florida, an amazing organization co-chaired by our own Daniel Adler, fighting for equitable government funding, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts, to make a difference for our students, families and schools. As a result of their hard work, in 2017-2018, Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program helped 2,575 students attend 32 Jewish day schools in Florida through a total of $18 million in scholarships. This year, the Gardiner and McKay scholarship programs helped 300 students with special needs attend Jewish day schools in Florida, totaling more than $2 million to Jewish day schools. Teach Florida also won $654,000 in first-time state funding for Jewish school security in 2017-2018 and a threefold increase of $2 million in the state’s 2018-19 budget.
These issues are complicated, and I fully acknowledge there are different perspectives on them. Nevertheless, there is currently no greater solution or proposal to positively impact the cost of Jewish tuition than this movement. This year, the schools in OUR community are receiving $2 million dollars and over 300 of our children are directly benefiting. Many of these families could not afford a Jewish education if not for these funds. These efforts met success because of the broader movement for school choice, championed by John Kirtley, our speaker this Shabbos. At the conclusion of the 9:00 a.m. minyan on Shabbos morning, John will help us understand the issues and provide practical advice on what we can do to help grow these already substantial numbers and benefit even more of our families and schools.
One of the most basic and yet greatest gifts and blessings God has bestowed upon us is our bechirah chofshis, our free will and ability to choose. If you fail to vote or to be informed when voting, it naturally follows that you forfeit your right to complain, kvetch or bemoan the issues you could have impacted.
Choose candidates whose positions and opinions you share. Be part of shaping your own destiny. Nobody can or should tell you how to vote, or for whom. But we can and must all tell one another to go out and vote, because it matters and it is our responsibility.