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If Not Now, When?

I wanted to share with you the remarks I was honored to deliver as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism launched its nonpartisan Every Voice, Every Vote campaign this week. The campaign is committed to getting minority voices to the ballot box to ensure that all peoples are represented in American public discourse and decision-making. As we approach election season, I pray you will join me and the Social Justice Committee as we work toward record voter turnout in the fall. -BD

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, then when? 

We’ve been quoting this Pirkei Avot verse forever. We even sing it. There’s a reason for that. These words get to the heart of what it means to be a Reform Jew in a complicated world. One, we have to stand up for ourselves, our sense of self, what we value. Be proud of who you are, we say. Stand up tall and proud for who you are, we say. 

We say it especially now, when college kids at my synagogue wonder whether they should hide their Jewish star while on campus, when distressed grandparents ask me if they should take down their mezuzah, when students ask me if they should still consider applying to the school they’ve long dreamed about. 

Especially now, we need to urge each other again and again to a place of Jewish pride. To lean into who we are, as our people have always done. I am so proud to be part of this people.

Of course, I can’t only be for myself. As Abraham extended a hand to three passing strangers, as Moses tried to aid his sister in her time of suffering, as Esther spoke out in the name of her people, the Jewish story is a story of reaching beyond ourselves again and again. We’ve all done that. You’ve done that. We do that for our kids. We do that when our friends need us. Our story – your story – is about aligning, ourselves with the hurt and the mistreated. The rabbis and cantors you and I know and love, the legendary names that hover in the air, these are the people who had the courage to be there in partnership amid times of pain, times of great racism, of deep prejudice. 

They left their comfort zone – as Abraham did, as Esther did, as we all have – because it was the right thing to do, the Jewish thing to do.

This election is not just about stopping voter suppression, or preventing future gun violence, it’s not just about expanding reproductive rights, it’s not just about antisemitism, or hate speech, it’s not just about Israel and Palestine. 

It’s about giving a voice to the voiceless. It’s about our going to the most human, the most humane place, the most Judaic place we can and not just for ourselves, but for every other.

And when? Well now. Of course now. Has there been a more pivotal, more fraught, more consequential moment than this moment in recent memory?  

This election is asking us the most fundamental questions, just like the Pirkei Avot text does.  

This election wonders with you and me: Who are we? What world do I want my three children to grow up in exactly? What norms will my teenage daughter, who lives with hearing loss, what norms will she inherit as a disabled female? What will the world look like when my eleven-year-old is ready for college? Who gets to dictate the very tone of our nation? Is tomorrow about democracy and equity or is it about close-mindedness and archaic thinking? Can we work together to make sure that those who have long been pushed to the margins are finally included?