Community Events Stress Engagement Ahead of Midterm Elections

Written by Anis Modi on . Posted in Community News

From candidate debates to communal conversations on important issues, community events in the Greater Washington area are challenging audiences to learn, engage, and make their voices heard in the upcoming elections Nov. 6.

Face Time With the Candidates

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington organized several elections-related events in October.

“The Jewish community has traditionally been highly civically engaged, and we feel it’s our role to make sure we have an educated electorate,” said Darcy Hirsh, director of Virginia and District of Columbia government and community relations. “We want to show the candidates that the Jewish community comes out, but also want the voters to get the candidates and be able to make an informed decision.”

On Oct. 8, the three candidates for Montgomery County executive addressed the Jewish community at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Rockville, Maryland. Marc Elrich (D) and Nancy Floreen (I) discussed busing for private school students (consensus: it’s complicated), special needs programs in non-public schools, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, while Ficker (R) focused on economics and transit.

About 160 people gathered at Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, Virginia, on Oct. 10 for the Olam Tikvah Men’s Club Election Brunch 2018, a forum for the community to meet U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D), his Republican challenger Corey Stewart, and Republican candidate for Virginia’s 11th Congressional District Jeff Dove.Both Kaine and Stewart addressed the vandalism incident that occurred at the JCC of Northern Virginia a week prior, emphasizing their commitment to fighting anti-Semitism and standing by Israel.

The JCRC’s next midterm elections-related event will be a Congressional District 6 candidate debate at Shaare Torah Congregation in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on Oct 26. The event will feature candidates Kevin Caldwell, Amie Hoeber, George Gluck, and David Trone.

(Make sure to pick up the Nov. 1 issue of Kol HaBirah for a full rundown of the stances of your local candidates before you hit the polls.)

The Political is Personal, The Personal Political

On Oct. 10 at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., a panel of young professionals organized by the Jewish Studies Center shared personal stories about challenges facing young Jews at the intersection of their identity and political activism.

Feminist activist and American University student Steph Black talked about the pressures and questions she has faced trying to define herself as a Zionist, feminist, female activist in today’s political climate. “A lot of times I was too progressive for the Jewish circle, and too Zionist for progressive circles,” she said. “Holding those tensions is a challenge.”

The three panelists explored the political moments and experiences that drive the young Jewish community. They said congregations should embrace the younger generation’s plurality of identities, and the way individuals choose to express them.

“The future of a successful American Judaism is going to have diversity,” said David Lloyd Olson, an Atlanta native and theater professional. “I believe the personal is political, and congregations will have to figure out how to be supportive of that.”

The next day, Adas Israel hosted a panel discussion titled “What’s at Stake for Women in 2018,” organized by the JCRC and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). Panelists included NCJW Director of Washington Operations Jody Rabhan and JCRC Associate Director Guila Franklin Siegel. The event was moderated by Jeanne Herman Ellinport, former White House liaison to the Jewish community, and covered subjects such as domestic abuse, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, and equal representation in Congress.

Franklin Siegel emphasized that while the JCRC is a non-partisan body and does not support specific candidates, she believes “women’s issues are human issues” and that the upcoming elections will have an impact on a host of these topics.

“We have to realize it’s time to renew our commitment to democracy and changing the status quo,” she said.

In addition to voting, Franklin Siegel urged community members — regardless of their political affiliation — to volunteer for local campaigns. She also emphasized the importance of reaching out to the younger population.

“It’s important to capture the hearts and minds of people as teenagers, before they become adults, and educate them to be an active part of the world that they want to see,” she said. “That’s an important tool for social change.”

By Anis Modi


 Anis Modi is a staff writer for Kol HaBirah.