The following blog post is adapted from remarks given by Rabbi Eli Freedman (Congregation Rodeph Shalom- Philadelphia, PA) at the For the People Redistricting Map Launch Rally in Harrisburg, PA on October 28, 2021.
In our Jewish lectionary, we read the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah last week. In this story, God is going to destroy these cities because of their wickedness. But Abraham bargains with God, reasoning that if there is just one innocent person in those cities, they should be spared.
Abraham is teaching all of us an important lesson. Every person counts. Every person, Every voice, Every vote.
It is with this same purpose that I am here today; because every person counts. Every person, Every voice, Every vote.
My grandfather, of blessed memory, Max Bree, was born and raised in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia. My grandparents were married at Congregation B'nai Jerushun, formerly located near 33rd and Diamond, right in the heart of the neighborhood. In the 1920 and 30's Strawberry Mansion was a tight knit Jewish community.
My grandparents could count on their elected officials in Harrisburg to represent their Jewish community in Strawberry Mansion. They had people from their own community working for their needs and helping them to succeed in life. It wasn't perfect, and there was still antisemitism but there were systems in place that helped my grandparents get ahead in life.
Today, Strawberry Mansion is very different demographically. It is no longer Jewish but predominantly African-American, but it is still a tight knit neighborhood with its own unique needs.
However, PA District 195 which cuts into parts of Strawberry Mansion also contains much of Fairmont and Brewery Town. Fairmont and Strawberry Mansion are very different communities with very different needs. How can the representative of district 195 properly advocate for the needs of such different communities? In an ideal world, where districts represented real life communities, Strawberry Mansion would be its own district - a community with similar culture, geography and needs. By splitting the neighborhood up, allowing it to be swallowed into wealthier neighboring communities, the residents are effectively being disenfranchised.
When my family lived in Strawberry Mansion were able to move up in the world, people that live there now are being thwarted and pushed down by a lack of representation.
Abraham fought for every single citizen of Sodom and Gomorroh. We are his spiritual heirs, we take on that legacy of partnering with God and working for justice in this world. We must work to ensure that every citizen of Pennsylvania is counted, that they have equal and fair representation in the statehouse and beyond.
And that is why RAC-PA is proud to stand with the Keystone Counts coalition to demand that the LRC adopt these unity maps.
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