Put on Your Jewish Political Action Hat

Put on Your Jewish Political Action Hat

The legislative portion of politics has begun anew in Washington, with even worse conflicts, including the government shutdown.

Harold Kirtz, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.
Harold Kirtz, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.

The American community is in a delicate balance politically and socially – not knowing how or when there will be a resolution to the conflicts between the branches of government, between the parties, between different groups in society.  We read in this past week’s Torah portion about Passover.  Even though we are about 100 days from the beginning of the holiday, we read this portion, in part, to begin thinking about and preparing for Passover.

Just as it takes time to prepare and it takes instruction on how to celebrate Passover, it takes time and instruction to rebalance the conflicts we are experiencing. Although the conflicts are major and often beyond our ability to resolve, each of us must take our own steps to help the rebalance.

Many of our conflicts should be and can be resolved through engagement in the political process. Meaningful participation will not just help rebalance but will also lead to re-energizing oneself for the benefit of society.

The legislative portion of politics has begun anew in Washington, with even worse conflicts, including the government shutdown.  It is a poor reflection on the process that much of our government is not allowed to do its job of protecting and providing for the needs of the American people.

The legislative process is also beginning on the state level. The Georgia state legislature has come together this week for the annual legislative session.  Citizen participation will be critical this year as we face many challenges.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta will host a Legislative Advocacy Training program. Everyone should attend to ready themselves for this legislative season. We will provide tips on how to advocate for your particular issue and your particular position, and offer the advice of legislators, lobbyists and experts.

This legislative session may see a number of contentious issues, including religious liberty bills; voter registration and identification issues; immigration; health care; and educational priorities.

For example, the expansion of health care coverage will likely be on center stage again.  Will Georgia finally expand Medicaid, or will it provide an alternative that will be consumer-friendly?  Or will we fail again to provide the necessary coverage for the health of all Georgians?

JCRC has taken the position that health coverage must be expanded so that all Georgians have access to decent health care.  The way to get there may differ across the political spectrum, but Jewish values, in our opinion, call for the ability of all citizens to have that access.

In the Mishneh Torah, the revered Jewish scholar — and physician — Maimonides, listed health care first on his list of the 10 most important communal services that a city must offer its residents (Hilchot De’ot IV: 23).  Almost all self-governing Jewish communities throughout history set up systems to ensure that all their citizens had access to health care.  Doctors were required to reduce their rates for poor patients, and when that was not sufficient, communal subsidies were established.

Immigration is another subject on which Judaism has a lot to say. Welcoming the stranger is listed many times in the Torah, but there are numerous other provisions and commandments. Torah forbids returning a person fleeing captivity to his or her enslaver. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in fact, points out that the Torah mandates that we give that person political asylum. We must allow such person to live where they wish and take special care not to wrong them, the JCRC also believes.

Moreover, the lesson of Passover is for the ideal hope that all human beings live in freedom. As we prepare for Passover, may we join together in political action to establish a community and state that is welcoming, caring and productive for the human spirit. Join us on Jan. 27; we are meeting at Congregation Shearith Israel.

Harold Kirtz is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.

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