This past Sunday, communities across the United States held standing-room-only vigils in memory of the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. This coming Sabbath, the American Jewish Committee is encouraging all who wish to #ShowUpForShabbat, much like the Jewish Federations of North America is promoting a continental Solidarity Shabbat.
At these sacred gatherings, religious and secular leaders have and will console their communities with compassionate words. Bolstered by quotations ranging from Biblical sources to bumper stickers, uplifting themes emerge: Care for one another. Celebrate goodness. Embrace Jewish traditions. Do not despair. Never lose hope. Stay strong. Shine a light in the darkness. These are all helpful phrases — comforting words that help us cope with the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.
But one word — one obvious four-letter word — matters more than all other words this week: VOTE.
When the tragedy in Pittsburgh falls a mere 10 days before the pivotal midterm elections, the mandate is unmistakable. At every service, in every temple newsletter, in every conversation at the oneg Shabbat — and to young and old, to partisans and nonpartisans alike — we must say “amen” to voting. Surely there is no message a speaker can deliver, and no action a listener can take, that is more important than to vote.
Thank you to the many outspoken leaders who have boldly called their flocks to civic action. Sometimes this entails going out on a limb, but in the face of today’s ugly and divisive “-isms” such as nationalism, anti-Semitism, racism, and sexism, our future demands nothing less. If we have any chance to address the most recent hate crime — and to prevent the next one, and the one after that — the heartfelt metaphors, poignant similes, and moving oratories must be coupled with an unvarnished directive to vote.
We are not powerless. Voting on Tuesday is our best hope for making the inspiring themes noted above come to life: Care for one another by voting against those whose uncivil discourse incites violence. Celebrate goodness by voting against those who turn a blind eye to that discourse. Embrace Jewish traditions by voting against those who spurn the stranger and poison the well of mutual respect. Ward off despair by voting against those who abet the gun lobby. Hold onto hope by voting against those whose values run counter to cherished ethical precepts. Stay strong by voting against those who foster anti-Semitic rhetoric. Shine a light in the darkness by voting against those who fail to condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Judaism has long embraced the principle that thoughts and prayers must partner with deeds. Our forebears prayed by doing: Noah built an ark, and Esther appealed to the king. In the pithy words of the Reform prayer book: “Pray as if everything depended on God; act as if everything depended on you.” Spiritual reflection wrapped up in eloquent prose is but the stepping stone to concrete engagement.
We have seen so many good deeds since Saturday. The caring circles of Jewish congregations, other faith communities, and advocacy organizations near and far spiral out like the rings of growth on a tree. From Muslims who raised funds for funeral and medical expenses, to local restaurateurs who sent food to families and law enforcement, to people who lined up to donate blood, the Tree of Life congregation has received generous support from friends and neighbors of all backgrounds. A forest of goodwill has sprung forth.
On Tuesday, we need to engage in one additional good deed, the most monumental opportunity our government affords us. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, “Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”
Voting has the potential to do most all of these feats.
When the tree of life becomes the tree of death, we are all called upon to root out the rot. Let’s do that by going to the polls on Tuesday.
Header Image: Peaceful protest in Pittsburgh, by Arielle Kaplan