Ever since I was a child, I loved going with my parent to vote. Back in the old days in New York City, you would pull a lever that would send your vote out to be counted, and I always thought this was the most wondrous job. Even before there were “I Voted” stickers, I remember feeling part of something large and communal, seeing our neighbors in line to vote and buying a brownie from the bake sale set up outside the polling station to support our local public school.
My first child was born a few months before the 2008 election and, since that first November, I bring him and his siblings with me every time I go to the polls. I will actually rearrange my schedule so that I’m sure they can go with me, something I typically try to avoid doing at all costs. In reflecting on this, I’ve come up with four reasons why I take my kids with me.
1. To Show the Blessings of Being a Jew in America
We should not take for granted the idea that Jews can vote everywhere. We know that at so many times in our history, we were prevented from making our voices heard in the electoral process. We live in a country where we have the right to vote and it allows me a moment to reflect, with my kids, on the many blessings of living in a diverse country where we and others are free to practice our religion, while still taking an active role in the life of our community.
2. To Show Them How I Live my Values
I always explain to my kids who I am voting for and why. I want them to understand which candidates I believe will best protect the rights of the vulnerable, care for our planet and the people on it, and understand our relationship to the rest of the world. It allows me to show my children that my values have Jewish roots and that they can use Judaism to frame their choices in the world.
3. To teach them responsibility for their community
The Talmud teaches that if a community cannot agree on what to do about an issue, everyone should gather together and each person should voice his view altruistically. This means that everyone should look out not just for what is best for them, but for the good of the community. It might not be in my personal best interest to pay higher taxes, but I can explain to my children how my taxes go to support many programs and services in the community from which they, and everyone else, benefits. Casting my vote is not only about me. It is about taking responsibility to vote for the people I think will best care for our community.
4. To show them it is a Jewish thing to do
Voting is not just an American or secular activity. It is a Jewish one as well. Judaism tells us that we have a responsibility to the people in our town or city and one of the ways we can exercise that responsibility is to vote. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein even said it is not just a right but an obligation of every Jew to vote. It gives us an opportunity to be thankful for the blessings we have been given and to protect both our rights and the rights of others.
Democracy only works if everyone in the community has a voice, and you can help train your children to be part of that voice. If you can find a way to take them with you to the polls, I think they’ll enjoy it, even if it is just for the “I Voted” sticker. And if you vote by mail, you can still talk through the ballot with them and show them how—even if they don’t get to pull a lever—you and they are participating in the system that helps our community and our country to thrive. See you at the polls!