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Civic Engagement—Helping People Exercise the Right to Vote

Several members of the Social Action Committee recently attended a meeting in Milwaukee of the six Reform congregations in southern Wisconsin. The meeting, convened by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Religious Action Center (RAC), focused on looking for social justice and advocacy issues where the congregations might want to work together. The issue that rose to the top was civic engagement. Civic engagement includes helping people register to vote, learn about candidate positions, use early voting, and get to the polls.

As Reform Jews, we are encouraged to participate fully in democratic processes, to promote Jewish voices and values in a nonpartisan way. As Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the RAC, put it, “we support issues and values, not people or parties.” The Talmud teaches: “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Brakhot 55a).

The RAC successfully mobilized thousands of people ahead of the 2018 elections. Reform Jews from nearly 1,000 communities in 43 states participated, and together engaged over 158,000 Americans in the democratic process through voter registration and candidate forums. Civic engagement programming took place at seven NFTY events and at nine URJ camps, reaching hundreds of teens and young adults. A similar campaign will be launched for 2020, and we will be sharing more about it in the coming months.

In addition, Wisconsin is one of only five states to receive a civic engagement grant from the PACE Foundation (Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement). The “Faith In/And Democracy” grant supports exploration of how faith and faith communities can support democracy and civic life, particularly in underserved regions and populations. The grantees, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and the Wisconsin Council of Churches, will use this grant to partner with interfaith religious institutions across the state to increase engagement in democratic processes. You can read more about the five projects at http://www.pacefunders.org/faith/.

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice has been invited to speak about the civic engagement grant at the Sisterhood/Men’s Club dinner on December 17. Register for the dinner now at tbemadison.org/event/sisterhood/mens-club-dinner.html.

If you are interested in helping people register to vote, the Madison City Clerk will offer a free training on Monday, November 18, 4:30–5:45 pm, at the Madison Municipal Building, Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. You will learn how to accurately answer questions about voter ID, voter registration, absentee voting, and the election process. Advance registration is not required. If you live outside of Madison, check with your local clerk for trainings near you.

January 19, 2020 22 Tevet 5780