Human Rights Shabbat D’Var Torah – Part 3.

This is the final part of the talk I gave, December 12th,  at the Jewish Community of Amherst in honor of Human Rights Shabbat.

The law (Civil Rights Act, 1965) restored the rights the 14th and 15th  Amendments had originally granted to the newly freed slaves. The 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibited literacy tests and required federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of the non-white population had not registered to vote. The law greatly increased black voting in Southern States. In Mississippi, participation went from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969. The Voting Rights Act provided both the federal courts and the federal government a variety of resources to ensure that there would be no discrimination in voting access.

A 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder ruled section 4b of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. This section contained a formula to determine which states required federal preclearance before making changes to their voting laws. This ruling led many southern states that had previously required the preclearance to change their voting laws, making them more restrictive. Several states engaged in mass purging of voter rolls, increased identification requirements and reduced the number of polling places. In the last election cycle, we saw many pictures of mostly black and brown people waiting on long lines to vote. One observer has called long voting lines the new poll tax.

As many of you may know there are currently two runoff Senate races in Georgia. The primary and runoff system in that state is itself the product of racist desires to keep black s from voting as a bloc and therefore gaining electoral power.  From 1917 to 1963, George had a county unit system for primaries. This system privileged, in a similar way to the electoral college, rural areas where most black did not live.

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled this system unconstitutional. A Georgia Congressmen, Denmark Groover, a committed segregationist, stated that he supported the creation of runoff system for elections because it “would again provide protection which … was removed with the death of the county unit system.”

Groover believed the runoff would “prevent the Negro bloc vote from controlling the elections.” Georgia recently announced it was reducing the number of polling places for early voting for the election on Jan. 5. Georgia has never elected an African American Governor, lieutenant governor, senator, or Secretary of State. The first African American Attorney General was elected in 1998. Of course, if the Democrats win, a black man, and a Jew will both become Georgia Senators.  (I know that sounds like the beginning of a joke) Reverend Raphael Warnock would be the first African-American Democratic Senator from the South.

When I read the Joseph story, I wondered why it is in the Torah?  What purpose does his story serve? Joseph’s story gets us to Exodus and places the Israelites in Egypt where the legacy of his accomplishments has disappeared. The sense of fragility that the story conveys has greatly increased among American Jews in the past four years. Although, as an aggregate, wildly successful, American Jews have wondered if that success could be taken away. Could the rise of white nationalism lead to more anti-Semitism and an increase in hate crimes? The short answer is yes.

One of the goals of both the Tikkun Olam Committee and the Tzedek Initiative is to join learning and study with action. The action I am proposing in connection with Human Rights Shabbat is for the JCA to give its support to Fair Fight, one of Stacy Abrams’ voting rights organizations. According to their website, Fair Fight promotes “fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourages voter participation in elections, and educates voters about elections and their voting rights. Fair Fight brings awareness to the public on election reform, advocates for election reform at all levels, and engages in other voter education programs and communications.”

I recently made calls with Fair Fight. They strictly enforce their non-partisan status and neither of the candidates are mentioned in the call script. We can support them through donations and by helping in their efforts to expand voting access in Georgia and across the county.

************************************************

There are  six days left before the Jan 5th election in Georgia. if you have time, please try to make some calls to get out the vote.

Next week, I will provide a review of 2020. Happy New Year!