Ballots have arrived in our mailboxes so I’m venturing out for the first time with my own (Jewish-informed) endorsement sheet.
First off, two things to get out of the way.
Number 1: VOTE. Regardless of if you follow my suggestions, just vote. We live in a participatory democracy, which means we must participate. Voting is one of our most important civic duties.
Number 2: Yes, I am allowed to endorse initiatives (and legislation.) Whenever I or my congregation dips its toe in the political waters, there is push back from those who don’t think congregations should be involved politically. Fair enough. But there are those who claim that it is illegal, or jeopardizing our tax status, or getting us into official trouble in some other way. That is simply not true. Congregations are not permitted to be involved in electoral politics, endorse specific candidates, etc. But ballot initiatives, yes. (In any event, take this posting as my personal opinion, not the official position of the congregation.)
So, here goes. My endorsements for this election.
We have an opportunity to take a bold initiative towards stemming the disastrous effects of climate change through this carbon fee initiative. Let’s face it, we are a capitalist society, for better or for worse. (Usually for the worse.) So environmental legislation based on the market, on fees for carbon emissions, makes sense. Those who pollute will need to pay. It will hopefully reduce carbon emissions at the same time raise money to support green energy initiatives.
We just recently read the beginning of Genesis, the creation story. It is not a story about origins–about how the world came to be–it is a story of relationships. And the first relationship humanity is gifted is the relationship to the natural world. The story tells of the first human being put in a garden to “till and tend” it. We are made God’s caretakers here on earth. The Earth is not to be exploited, but used in a mutually beneficial way. We know from science and from reports that we humans have had a strong negative impact on the earth and the climate. We have not been great caretakers. I-1631 gives us an opportunity as a community to do something.
Washington State has the ability to lead the way in this regard, and the efforts here are making national news as a recent story in the New York Times attests. But we Jews shouldn’t worry about being first. As the midrash (commentary) goes, when the Israelites reached the Red Sea after leaving Egypt, it was not Moses that caused the sea to part, but a guy named Nachshon, who jumped into the water first. It was that leap that brought about the splitting of the sea and the liberation of the people. Let’s jump.
Yes, I do like soda. I wouldn’t think about eating a kosher pastrami and tongue at the 2nd Avenue Deli without a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry to wash it down. But we all know that soda is not the healthiest beverage, and in fact, except for the occasional treat, I gave it up a few years ago.
While I made that choice for myself, I would never impinge on someone’s right to drink soda. At the same time, I won’t infringe on a municipality’s right to tax it. Taxes are helpful things–they not only raise revenue for the state but they also allow communities to choose what to discourage by raising the price. We tax cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol. They have not been taxed out of existence; indeed, I’m sure the draw for legalizing marijuana was the tax revenue that could be levied since the product is so widely used. But at the same time, these have public health risks, and taxes are a way to try to maintain the public good by promoting healthier behaviors and raising funds for civic needs. Excessive soda (and other sugary drinks) can be detrimental to one’s health, so a government should have the ability to tax it.. Voting no on I-1634 will allow municipalities to make this important decision, following Seattle’s lead, to tax soda and other sugary beverages.
We as Jews must be concerned with the public good: “Everyone is responsible for one another,” we read in the Talmud. Oftentimes the choices we make are not just individual choices, but have broader implications. Issues that affect public health–like drinking soda–are an example. Stemming the tide of soda through taxes is a positive step. Now if we could just get everyone to wear a bike helmet…
The Jewish community in the state has taken an active role in gun legislation, primarily stemming from the fatal shooting at the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle over a decade ago. But it is an issue that is not exclusive here, Jewish communities around the country have advocated for gun legislation.
We know the need for survival and self-defense, it is part of our Jewish DNA. And I will admit that in these past few years with the rise in anti-Semitism, and especially after Charlottesville, I have thought about whether or not having a gun would be a good idea. In my mind I have not completely ruled it out. And at the same time, we need to do what we can to reduce accidents, promote responsible gun usage, keep guns out of the hands who may do harm to themselves or others, and overall reduce the likelihood of gun violence. (And while our government does not like to recognize it as such, gun violence, like soda, is a public health issue.)
I have shared about this before, and I often look to the verse in Deuteronomy in the Torah that says, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” (22:8) In other words, our sacred texts teach that when you have a potentially dangerous situation, you must do what you can to mitigate the danger. You can have a house, just make a parapet so no one falls off the roof. With (gun) rights, come (gun) responsibilities.
We all know about the ongoing wave of officer-involved shootings in our country, primarily with people of color as the victims. This is an example of systemic racism that we need to work hard to overcome. And while the issues are deeper than any one example, we do have the opportunity to do something to save lives.
Washington State has one of the strictest laws in holding police accountable for questionable shootings. This initiative would both make it easier to hold officers accountable and provide more training in mental health and de-escalation techniques.
One (perhaps more obscure) teaching from our tradition that comes to mind when I think about this initiative is from Pirke Avot (the Ethics of our Ancestors): “Be careful about the government, as they approach a person only when they need him. They seem like good friends in good times, but they don’t stay for him in time of his trouble.” (2:3) I do not think government is a bad thing, and we need the police to enforce laws and protect us as needed. At the same time, I read into this text a modicum of suspicion, which we can understand as the need to hold our leaders and authority figures accountable. They can not be above the law, and we should work in partnership with those who hold civic authority.
For those who are tracking, the Legislature passed compromise legislation on this last session, but after a lawsuit was found by the Supreme Court to have been unconstitutional. So now it comes to the voters. This I believe will make a safer community for all.
Proposition 1: YES.
Let’s not forget this one: it is not a big statewide campaign but a local initiative to increase bus service. Robust public transport is a good thing for some of the other reasons listed above. Better buses mean fewer cars which is good for the environment. And there are those who rely on buses for transportation, and we want to think about our neighbors and our responsibility towards them, even if we primarily use cars.
I love our local bus system, even though I don’t use it as much as I should or could. Our family has taken the Dash through downtown. My son took the city bus to high school cross town. I rode it when I was teaching out at SPSCC. People use Dial-A-Lift to get to the synagogue. I’m trying to get out of my car more as well by walking, but planning on taking the bus when its too rainy. Offering alternatives to cars, and accessibility for those whom it is not an option, is an important part of living in a mutually supportive community.
These are my individual rabbinic opinions. Refer to them as you see fit. For me, voting is more than a privilege, it is an obligation. Ballots are due via mail or drop-off by November 6. Happy democracy!