An Open Letter to the Non-Voting Jew: Why It Is Un-Jewish to Deny Your Vote

Let me paint you a picture of B’nei Israel when there was no Israel, because the imagery seems to have been forgotten. Many American Jews seem to have actively chosen to disobey one of our most sacred commandments – the mitzvah to remember. Worse, this sin is being committed through apathy and arrogance, traits asserting that we are the center of the universe and if not pleased, or entertained, or humored then why care? It is the sin Pirkei Avos demanded be appropriately named as idolatry. So let me paint you a picture of B’nei Israel before there was Israel. Let me remind you of what you were commanded to remember as you lie down and as you rise.

Picture your mother who escaped from Poland after the war where civic signs stated ‘No Jews’ next to ‘No Dogs’. She did not have a vote. Picture your father in Soviet Russia who forgot his Jewishness through a Soviet silence of Semitism. He did not have a vote. Remember why you were born in the United States. Remember that here your parents for the first time had a vote.

The picture continues to be painted.

Picture your grandfather, the tailor of the Aryan camps sewing a needle through the flesh of friends and family. Each time the needle passed through the hide it was as if he was stabbing his own flesh. He did not have a vote. Picture your grandmother forcing an abortion on herself, fearful that if she emulated the life giving miracle of Hashem of what the Nazis may do. She had already seen it done to her friends. She did not have a vote. Remember that the Nazis took away their names, gave them a number and sent them to a gas given slumber. Remember that they did not have a vote. Never forget.

The picture paints on.

Picture your ancestors. Burned. Stoned. Lynched. Converted. Exiled into forced nomads. The people without a land. The unwanted children of the world. People without a vote. Picture their hunters rallying in the hundreds. The thousands. Picture their screams. Their cries. Picture their chants of ‘Hep hep hooray’ as they marched with spears and rope to lynch your ancestors who did not have a vote.

Picture the Jewish slaves of Egypt. The Jewish slaves of Babylon. The Jewish slaves of Rome. Shackled. Whipped. Back bent, knees broken, crying out to Hashem for the right to self-determination. For Freedom. For Israel.

They were denied their self-determination, and as you deny your self-determination you are denying them. You are denying your people every time you don’t vote because a candidate was not able to entertain you from apathy, or humor your arrogance. Each time you don’t vote you are committing idolatry and spitting in the face of Avraham, Sarah, Yitzak, Rivkah, Yaakov, Rochel and Leah. The vote is the splitting of the sea, but you, the arrogant Hebrew would rather be a slave ruled by Pharaoh than B’nei Israel protected by Hashem. The vote is the Haganah and the Irgun but rather than being held accountable for your right to choose, you would be ruled by the British Mandate.

Do not say that the freedom to not vote is an action of self-determination. That an abstention is somehow not inaction. There is no political action more tangible or more effective than the vote. Even if you’re rallying on the streets for causes that matter to you, posting on social media, or even writing Times of Israel blogs, none of these actions can boast anything close to the impact of your vote. When you make the choice to not vote, it is not an expression of civil disobedience. It is an expression of civil apathy, idolatrous arrogance, and ancestral disrespect.

You have four candidates of four completely different ideologies sitting all along the political spectrum. I’d be lying if I didn’t believe some of these candidates were dangerous. However, enslaving ourselves by denying our right to self-determination is far more dangerous. I would rather a Jew vote for the wrong candidate, than not vote at all.

In the words of Primo Levi’s Shema,

“You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I command these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you”

About the Author
Jake Campbell is the Assistant Director of Hillel at Towson University. He was previously the Executive Director of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, the Jewish Student Life Coordinator and Ezra Fellow of Hillel at Florida State University and a founding resident of Moishe House Sydney. Before making the switch to Jewish Higher Education and Nonprofits, Jake worked in a corporate higher education company as a team leader of the mentor department and previous to that was a high school English and History teacher.
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