The following blog post is adapted from a sermon given by Rabbi Lindsey Danziger, lead organizer of RAC-OH, at a Shabbat service and coalition leadership meeting for reproductive rights at Temple Israel in Columbus, OH.
Good evening, Shabbat shalom. Thank you so much to Rabbi Mars & Cantor Moses for your partnership and welcome into your community. It is an honor to be with you all this Shabbat at the end of this historic week for Ohio.
I am the lead organizer of RAC Ohio, our Reform movement's statewide network of communities joining together to bring the values of justice, mercy, and equity to the Buckeye State.
Since Passover we have been hard at work collecting signatures to put reproductive freedom on Ohio's ballot. Our coalition, Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, collected over 700k signatures. Our Reform congregations contributed 10k of those! When it became clear that we would put reproductive freedom before voters and win, the legislature called for Tuesday's special election. It would have raised the threshold to pass ballot measures from a simple majority to 60% and made it a lot harder for citizens to put any future amendments on the ballot.
So what happened? Does anyone know the commandment that appears the MOST times in all of Torah? Love the stranger! Bonus points if you know how many times!! 36 - a conspicuous number!
We are commanded, not once, not twice, but 36 times, to love the stranger - those who are different from us: who might look different, pray different, or vote different. We are commanded over and over to love the stranger because WE were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Issue one was not about partisan politics, it was about the antithesis to loving the stranger. It asked us to vote away our own power and that of our neighbors - to willingly diminish our own voices for fear of one another. It asked us to distrust "the stranger" - more than we trust ourselves. When we distrust and disrespect our neighbors, all of us suffer. We build a society of polarization and division.
When presented with that vision, Ohioans of all backgrounds and political parties responded with a resounding heck NO! Not on our watch. Ohioans came together this week to offer a different vision for our state - one where we respect and trust our neighbors.
Officials predicted a 15% turnout on Tuesday, but 40% of Ohio voters showed up. We saw an historic surge in women - especially black women - and young voters. Democracy won, which inherently means putting trust in our fellow humans, even those who are different from us, even the stranger.
This November we will get another chance to make a big choice at the polls that centers around trusting Ohioans and respecting one another. This time it is about trusting our neighbors to make their own family and medical decisions; trusting religious minorities like Jewish Ohioans to make decisions in line with their faith values. With our reproductive Freedom amendment, a lot is on the line - lives are on the line.
Whenever I meet with individuals or groups volunteering on this campaign, I ask why they care about the issue. Among our own RAC volunteers, I met doctors who see the medical and psychological aftermath of forced birth and vow to never go back to the place we were in last year at this time - they vow there will be no more medical refugees fleeing our state. I met a social worker who was responsible for getting the ten year old little girl who had been raped out of Ohio in order to save her life with an abortion. I met young men who weren't sure if and when they would want to become fathers, but opted instead to get vasectomies rather than risk it. I met new empty nesters who fear their children will never move home to an Ohio where they don't feel medically safe and free. I met pregnant women, nervous that their doctors wouldn't be able to save their lives if something went wrong. I met dozens of Jewish clergy who are scared that counseling their congregants in line with our ancient Jewish teachings - that place a pregnant persons life before the life of a fetus - could land them in jail! Everyone has a story. This issue impacts each of us in some way.
For this reason, reproductive freedom is popular in Ohio and we can win! Polls show 1/3 of Ohio republicans and 85% of Independent female voters favor reproductive freedom. This is not a partisan issue. But, in order to win, we need all hands on deck for the Fall. We will be canvassing, post carding, and phone banking - there will be many opportunities to get involved and to do so with your faith community if you are interested. Rabbi Mars, Bobbi Jacobs, and Samantha Bark can help you get started.
This week's Torah Portion opens with a warning, "this day I set before you: blessing and curse." For the Israelites their choice is between idolatry and God. But, we too have a choice between blessings and curses, idolatry and holiness. This Shabbat let us proudly celebrate an Ohio that chose blessing- the blessing of trusting our neighbors and loving the stranger. And, after Shabbat concludes, we must get back to work to fight against another form of idolatry. When we choose division, and oppression; fear of our neighbors; not trusting women… we are transgressing our tradition that implores us 36 times to love the stranger. Let us choose the blessings of freedom, dignity, and equality for all people. Amen.