There’s a time in autumn when we come together as a larger community, introspectively considering the rights and wrongs that have occurred since the last time we gathered and how we’d like to see them rectified. I know what you’re thinking, and no — I’m not referring to Yom Kippur or any other holiday on the Jewish calendar. Actually, I’m talking about U.S. elections.
Like many specifically Jewish customs, voting is communal and connects us in a significant way to a larger whole (even if that larger whole feels more polarized and broken than ever at the moment). Yom Kippur recently gave us a space to stop and reflect on what’s important to us spiritually; the November elections give us a moment to pause and think about what’s important to us in the larger community we share outside of (but very much including) our Jewish identities.
Casting my ballot this year got me thinking about the shehecheyanu blessing — the blessing you traditionally say to mark seasonal events that are occurring for the first time that year (like when you light Hanukkah candles on the first night of Hanukkah). At its core, a Jewish blessing, to me, is about pausing during your hectic day to be truly present, acknowledging the magic within the mundane. Reciting a blessing is a signal that this is a significant moment in time that we need to slow down and acknowledge.
Sitting in my car with a seemingly trivial “I secured my vote!” sticker proudly emblazoned on my chest, I realized that saying a blessing in this moment would offer just this: a breath to reflect on all that the action of voting encompasses. It would be an invitation to focus on how grateful I am for what we currently have access to in our country, and on the things I’m upset that we, and others, do not have — which incites my passionate anger and makes me want to do something about it, like go out and vote. It would allow me to savor my connection to our matriarchal ancestors who fought tirelessly so that I could easily tap out my votes on a computerized screen, the height of convenience — and it reminds me of the work we have left to do, because even now, there are so many who can’t easily exercise their right to vote, particularly if they are not financially stable, white or able-bodied.
The more I’ve reflected on it, the more I’ve realized that voting is an incredibly meaningful action that many of us take for granted (myself typically included), often because we are tired from work and stressed about trying to get to our local polling location before it closes — or because we feel despair over whether things can get better even if we do vote. That’s why I posit that casting one’s ballot is a perfect moment for a Jewish blessing, which can serve as an anchor to ground us.
Even — or maybe especially — in a politically tumultuous time when we are worried and stressed, in which our own bodily autonomy is under threat, it’s important for us to be present in this moment, to acknowledge that we are taking control of what we can. Our vote reflects that we haven’t given up, no matter how hopeless things might feel. Like lighting Shabbat candles, voting signals to the world: “In the midst of the chaos and distractions, we will take positive action to bring more peace to the world we live in. We will not let daily hardship snuff out our will or our light.”
This November, I had the deep privilege of casting my vote early. To commemorate the occasion, I’d like to offer a blessing that I hope you can shape into words relevant to you — that will help you, too, pause and appreciate the magnitude of the moment.
A Jewish Blessing Upon Voting
Blessed are You, Force of the Universe,
For bringing me to this time and season,
And allowing me to be a small part of a larger whole.
I am grateful that I have the privilege to exercise my vote
As a fundamental human right,
And I recognize the sanctity of this moment.
Though my bodily autonomy is under threat, my voice, for now, remains unrestricted, and I will not remain silent.
Standing at the polling booth, I represent those who came before me and cleared the way so that I could easily step forward and cast my ballot.
I acknowledge and appreciate their tireless work, and I honor them by not taking this right for granted.
However, I also recognize that their work is not complete until everyone, especially people of color, people with disabilities and queer/trans people, all have equal access to exercise their right to vote — and feel safe doing so.
Until the time that this work is complete (may it come speedily in our days),
I will carry on the legacy of my Jewish matriarchs like Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Who carried a mantle bearing the declaration “Tzedek Tzedek tirdof — justice, justice, you shall pursue,”
And the Jewish values which have taught me to treat every human with dignity and honor.
Blessed are You, Force of the Universe,
For allowing us the opportunity to carry on in the longstanding tradition
Of standing together to do tikkun olam, by making the world a more safe, accessible and equal place for all.