October 27, 2020

Exercise Your Right to Vote

By Lisa Fishbayn Joffe

HBI is proud to be a sponsor of Jewish Women Vote, a program to encourage Jewish women to use the franchise that generations of Jewish women have fought hard to secure for themselves and others; and part of the VoteDeis Campus Coalition, a nonpartisan Brandeis coalition supporting voter registration and voting. 

Jewish women have been part of the ongoing struggle for women’s right to vote in the United States since the turn of the 20th century.  In 1851, Ernestine Rose, a Jewish woman who immigrated to the U.S. after fleeing an arranged marriage and successfully suing her husband for the return of her inheritance, spoke at the Second National Women’s Rights Convention, calling for women to be given full political, social and legal rights. Rose persevered in this work, in the face of antisemitic criticism of her in the popular press and antisemitic hostility towards Judaism in the discourse of the suffrage movement, which identified the Jewish bible and traditions as the source of patriarchal notions of women’s inferiority. When it came time for states to vote on the question of women’s suffrage, historian Pamela Nadell notes that women’s advocacy in their own community meant that men in Jewish neighborhoods turned out en masse to vote in favor of women’s enfranchisement. 

Jewish women’s involvement in this secular struggle was entwined with movements to secure Jewish women’s equality in their Jewish lives as well. Historian Melissa Klapper (2007 HBI Scholar in Residence), notes that Jewish women’s success in securing the right to the secular vote in the U.S. in 1920 gave them the skills and awakened the desire in them to seek greater equality in access to ritual participation, leadership roles and under Jewish law, struggles that continue to this day.

Today, the struggle to vote continues evidenced by long lines, the pandemic, and reports of interference in the election by foreign players. In addition to being part of the Jewish Women Vote coalition, HBI is part of the VoteDeis Campus Coalition, a nonpartisan Brandeis coalition supporting voter registration and voting. That campaign includes a series of videos from members of the Brandeis community. Be inspired by a sampling of the community’s reflections on voting (below), and join Jewish women from across the country to reflect on what this right means to you.

Anita Hill, University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Early suffragists blame male lawmakers, jurors and judges for the unfettered physical and sexual abuse men wielded against women.

Winning the right to vote for women was their antidote to sexual assault at home, on the streets and in workplaces.

Unfortunately, in their passionate pursuit of personal and political autonomy, few white activists consider how Native, Brown and Black women’s oppression under colonialism, immigration law and slavery figured into the solution suffragist sought.

As we struggle today to eliminate blind spots that have weakened our claim to universal personal and political autonomy, abuses borne by diverse individuals of all genders because of their gender continue at shocking rates.

We can’t wait another one hundred years.

We must use the franchise to ensure both our political and personal equality and we must deploy our votes to enact laws and elect representatives that will, in the words of abolitionist and feminist crusader Sarah Grimke, ‘Get our brethren to take their feet off our necks.’

ChaeRan Freeze, Frances and Max Elkon Chair in Modern Jewish History

As long as I reside on stolen native lands, I vote because I care about Indigenous sovereignty, sacred sites in traditional culture, the epidemic of murdered and missing women and girls, the right of native children to grow up in their own communities, and environmental rights.

I am painfully aware that this country has long suppressed Indigenous vote and political participation even as native matrilineal traditions inspired the white suffragists and their struggle for the 19th Amendment a century ago.

The fight for the right to vote is still unfinished.

For me voting, is a powerful way to protect the lands and lives of the very people in whose homelands I dwell as a guest.”

 MJ Ibrahim, ’23, MLK Scholar at Brandeis University

Now even though I myself am not eligible to vote as I’m not a US citizen or permanent resident,this election cycle will dictate whether or not my family and I will remain in the United States and continue the life we’ve been building over the past five years or we would be deported back to Iraq where we are going to be facing persecution and potential execution due to ethnic and religious clashes as well as political instability.

Sabine von Mering, Professor of German and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (dressed as a polar bear)

Hi! I’m Sabine von Mering. I’m a professor at Brandeis and also a climate activist and here is why I vote.

First of all, elections are decided by those who vote.

Secondly, I’m a naturalized citizen in the United States and I still remember what it was like when I didn’t have the right to vote so to me voting is a privilege that I take very seriously.

And finally, as a climate activist I understand that I can do a lot to address the climate crisis.

I can reduce my carbon footprint. I can put solar panels on my roof. I can drive a tiny electric car and go vegan, but ultimately the big decisions are made by the people we elect.

 

Lisa Fishbayn Joffe is the Shulamit Reinharz Director of HBI. 

Jewish Women vote, presented Friday, October 16 at 3:30 p.m. EDT, features Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, Rabbi Sandra Lawson, Rabbi Mira Rivera, Abby Stein, And Rabbi Isaama Goldstein Stoll, is a nonpartisan, pluralistic celebration of Shabbat and voting. Register today!

Jewish Women Vote is presented by the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, and Jewish Women International and co-sponsored by Alpha Epsilon Phi, B’nai B’rith Girls, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Jewish Women’s Archive, Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, Jewish Women’s Funding Network, Keshet, Lilith Magazine, NA’AMAT USA, Sigma Delta Tau, Women of Reform Judaism, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, and Women’s Rabbinic Network.

 

 

 

 

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