I remember feeling astonished when I first learned that my great-grandfather had fought beside the Germans during the first world war. As citizens of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Kaiser Franz Josef had been kind to his Jews: so much so, that there were murmurs that he himself was secretly Jewish. Not surprisingly, I was told, Jews fought proudly for the Kaiser. Unlike many Jews who emigrated to America, my great-grandfather was in a sense blessed that his choice was one of pure economics rather than pogroms.
At some point, my great-grandfather, Morris, and his brother Frank would send a check to other members of their family to emigrate to the United States. Instead of emigrating, however, they took the money and went on a vacation. Times remained good. Unfortunately, following the rise of authoritarian government in Europe, the rest of my family never made it out. To this day, my grandfather keeps a photocopy of that check from over ninety years ago.
As a rabbi in the sixth congressional district of Georgia, I will now have voted four different times in the course of one year. Each time I go, I have to leave my work day, remember to bring my ID, and fill out new paperwork. When I voted early this year in one election, it was blessing because the actual voting day fell on Pesach. However, as many here also experience, early voting can also be a curse when lines are upward of a half an hour or more.
Sometimes, I think I should stay home from the ballot box. Then, I think of my great-grandfather’s check for a brighter future that was never cashed. I remember all of the Jews who throughout our people’s history had their very existence subject the whims of a good or bad king, or who were expelled, treated poorly, or massacred by autocrats who believed they were not held accountable to the people they governed.
The Book of Deuteronomy (32:7) challenges us: z’chor yemot olam, to “remember the days of old.” That’s what I’ll be doing when I go to vote this week, and I hope you will do the same. Voting is not only our patriotic duty as Americans, but our obligation as Jews charged to remember the lessons of the past and to cash a check for a better future.