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My Jew-Per Hero Voting Mom

10/01/2018 08:20:39 PM


Ilana Axel, Cantorial Leader

My mom is a Jew-per hero, but she doesn’t know it. At age 7 she was taking care of her younger sister and their home because her own mother was infirm. In her teens she worked in her father’s restaurant. As an adult she took care of her aunt, who was a ward of the state. Married at age 23, my mom gave birth to four children within six years, worked part-time, and hosted the social arena of my father’s growing academic career. Our home was always spotless. There was a hot, home-cooked meal waiting for all of us at dinner every night. The clothes were always laundered, and we lacked for nothing. Today, 85 years old with aches and pains of her own, she still takes charge of my disabled brother’s life in assisted living, and cares for my father in their own home, as he is now unable to walk.
Down deep inside I think my mother knows she is an ordinary every day sort of hero. But what makes her a Jew-per hero without knowing it? Yes, she made sure we joined a temple, and went to Hebrew School, and had Bar Mitzvahs. But she wasn’t the president of a temple or a Hadassah chapter, or a Zionist activist, or anything of that sort. She didn’t study Torah, nor read Hebrew. Basically she remembered to light Shabbat candles on Friday night, before going out to a movie or a party. And she made the best brisket, hands down (e-mail me for that recipe)!

What made my mom an unaware sort of Jew-per hero is that, without thinking much about it, she modeled certain behaviors to us that are based firmly on Jewish values. Keeping family together in a loving environment. Making sure her children were educated in every possible way. Attending shivas and making meals for the sick. Donating regularly to tzedakah (charity). And, what I recently realized – she always took me to watch her vote in every election so that I would learn how important voting is.

As we approach the upcoming General Election, Beth Tikvah’s Tzedek (Social Justice) Committee has taken on a huge commitment to bring every eligible member of our congregation to the voting booths on November 6. This non-partisan dedication is based on two fundamental Jewish values – a sense of responsibility for one’s community, and gratitude for the gift of knowledge and literacy.

Our Sage Hillel taught:
משנה אבות ב׳:ד׳
הִלֵּל אוֹמֵּר: אַל תִפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִבּוּר.
Pirkei Avot 2:4

Hillel says: Do not separate yourself from the community.

This dictum has come down to us through the ages, instilling in Jewish communities worldwide an abundant sense of responsibility for others. Jewish individuals are therefore often represented in social change arenas far above their actual numbers. A Jew is someone who cannot stand idly by and let others make choices for them that will impact themselves and others adversely. We have received a legacy of social involvement that demands, no matter how cynical we might be, a place in the voting booth.

Gratitude is at the heart of the Jewish religion. For thousands of years we had no vote; no control over our destinies. During elections I can act vigorously upon my gratitude that our heritage advocates strongly for both individual and communal self-determination and transparency, for God commands that even the smallest child should be able to hear and understand the words of Torah for themselves.

Deuteronomy 29:9-11: You stand this day, all of you, before the ETERNAL your God- your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from wood chopper to water drawer, to enter into the covenant of the ETERNAL your God, which the ETERNAL your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions.

This piece of Torah, which we just read at Yom Kippur, reminds us that knowledge, which enables self-realization, is not meant for only the leisurely classes. Torah must be made available to all. It is both a gift and a responsibility. It takes only one step further to grasp that our gratitude for living in an open democracy in the 21st century obligates us to educate ourselves about the issues of the day and participate in the choices our society makes. In Jewish thought, every voice is needed in Creation. Every vote counts.

I still remember as a child how powerful and mysterious the voting booth in my town looked, with its many little buttons and then, that final pull of the big lever that opened the thick curtain and signified my Jew-per hero mother’s vote had been counted. Today we can vote in so many ways – early voting, mail-in voting, same day voting. Such a gift! Let us raise it up together in gratitude and positive action. Show me your “I Voted” button on November 6!

Tue, June 25 2024 19 Sivan 5784