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Let My People Vote

Kol Tzedek Synagogue and POWER Interfaith
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania United States
Leadership team

Cecily Harwitt, Board Member at Kol Tzedek; Director of Organizing at POWER
Rabbi Julie Greenberg, Special Projects Coordinator at POWER
Aviva Joffe, Kol Tzedek POWER Team Co-Chair

In collaboration with

POWER Interfaith www.powerinterfaith.org
Kol Tzedek www.kol-tzedek.org
with a collaboration team of Rabbi Julie Greenberg, Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari, Aviva Joffe and Cecily Harwitt

Prize category
Local/Regional
Operational
1 – 3 years
Target audience
20s & 30s, Adults, Baby Boomers, Children, College Students, Disabilities, Educators, Elderly, Families, GLBTQ, Interfaith, Jewish Professionals, Multi-ethnic, Teens, Unaffiliated, Women & Girls
Categories
Advocacy, Community Building, Experiential Learning, Interfaith, Jewish Education, Leadership Development, Outreach & Engagement, Service & Volunteerism, Social Justice, Spirituality, Text Study

Let My People Vote links Jewish sources of inspiration to voter engagement activities, expressing the Jewish value that we are G-d’s partners in co-creating a just world.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Let My People Vote is rooted in the prophetic Jewish tradition of empowering people to create a world of inclusion and respect. While our tradition offers a moral vision of human equality, it is easy for individuals to feel hopeless and helpless about how to build that world. We feel the pain of economic and educational inequality and wonder how to act to make a difference. Let My People Vote involves congregants of Kol Tzedek, an innovative synagogue in Philadelphia, with POWER’s city-wide multi-faith justice campaigns in the areas of Economic Dignity, Funding for Public Education and Fair Policing. Underlying all of our social justice action teams is an intense voter registration and engagement campaign.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

All of our Let My People Vote meetings begin and end with prayer and include an interactive faith reflection. We have used texts from Pirkei Avot about the three pillars of Judaism being Torah, service and good deeds; we’ve studied biblical texts about the obligation for each person to contribute a half shekel to the building of the sanctuary; we’ve held up the greatest freedom story ever written, the Exodus story, as we fight the Pharoahs of carbon pollution, under-funded public education and corporate prison-building. We are bringing the riches of Judaism into the realm of public theology.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

Let My People Vote gives participants the tools to take Jewish wisdom into the public realm through voter registration, education and engagement. We have team co-chairs, canvass captains, phone bank captains and data captains who all receive training and we use the latest version of the VAN to reach potential voters. In 2014 we were part of a city-wide effort that reached out to 180,000 voters and managed to make education funding the number one issue in the state and we succeeded in passing a living wage referendum on the municipal ballot. In 2016 we are carrying on this work with a strong voter registration and engagement drive. Participants have shown up again and again to take part in planning, to learn from the workshops on how to engage voters and to go out into neighborhoods to register or activate voters. We hear feedback such as "This project is turning hope into action." "This is what makes Judaism meaningful to me." "We are praying with our feet." This is Jewish theology in action.

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

We’ve learned that rooting our work in moral values is more powerful than a simple civic activity. We are stronger for having spiritual roots, a lineage of ancestors and a framework of living Torah. We’ve found that living Torah is inspiring to people and draws people into the Jewish community. Doing this work in a multi-faith setting (both partnering with people of other faiths to do the work and reaching out to enlist people of many faiths as voters) has helped our Jewish participants articulate the Jewish values that we’re enacting, and also educate and learn from participants in other traditions. It has been interesting to see people coming into this work from diverse streams of motivation: some come because they are already religiously involved in the synagogue and are stepping into Tikkun Olam work for the first time; others come from activist backgrounds and are discovering Judaism for the first time.

The great Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi taught that each religion is like an organ in the human body; we each have a role to play in helping the whole body function. Just as a human body could not work without a heart or a lung or the guts, so the body of humanity cannot work at its best without the wisdom of each religion or ethical tradition. When we engage citizens in Let Our People Vote, we show up publicly as Jews making our contribution to the common good. We understand that in this day and age, the needs of the world are so huge, every single religion has a mandate to offer its best wisdom to the tasks at hand for human survival and for the thriving of the species.. As Jews we are called to share our extraordinary resources on behalf of all people.