The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Starting this summer, the Reform Movement will be taking action around the United States under the banner of Nitzavim: Standing Up for Voter Protection and Participation. This initiative, a part of our Movement’s racial justice campaign, will focus on ensuring that people of color are valued at the ballot box this year, rather than pushed aside by efforts to curtail voting rights. As we prepare to launch this initiative on August 18, we would like to tell you more about what we are doing and why we are doing it.
The Hebrew word, Nitzavim, literally means “standing.” It also hearkens back to one of the most memorable section of Moses’ final speech to the Israelites: “Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem – You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God – you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all of the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer – to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God” (Deuteronomy 29:9-11).
These words remind us that Judaism envisions a world where all are valued, not just those with power or privilege. Moses invites everyone, regardless of status, to enter into covenant with God and paints a picture of a society where all can stand, be heard and make moral choices.
This ideal is markedly different than the America we see today. Too many people of color in this country cannot stand, be valued and be heard in the same way that their white neighbors can. In our streets, in our prisons, at our polling places and beyond, people of color face the injustice of structural racism.
Currently, more than two million Americans are incarcerated in local, state and federal jails and prisons – the largest incarcerated population in the world. And, one in three black men born today can expect to serve time in prison, as compared to one in 17 white men. We must stand up now in solidarity with directly-affected communities in order to ensure that those who represent us reflect our commitment to ending racial disparities in policing, sentencing and reentry.
We must also stand up against the wave of voter suppression laws that are being implemented across the country. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, opening the door for a flurry of restrictions on voting that disproportionately impact people of color, low-income people, people with disabilities, students and the elderly. In all, 16 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election this year, and hundreds of thousands of Americans – especially black and Latino – could find themselves unfairly turned away at the polls in November. Working toward justice means not only turning out our own Reform communities to vote, but also ensuring that our neighbors in communities of color can stand up, be counted and participate fully in our democracy.
Building on our participation in the NAACP’s America’s Journey for Justice last summer, Nitzavim: Standing Up for Voter Protection and Participation is the next step in our campaign for racial justice. Working alongside local and national partners – the NAACP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the PICO National Network – we will engage in voter registration, get out the vote and help monitor elections in order to strengthen civic engagement, protect the right to vote and build a broad and lasting coalition for justice.
We invite you to take a stand and join Nitzavim both at our launch in North Carolina from August 18-20 and around the country through Election Day. Sign up here.