Autumnal Holidays and Ballot Initiatives

My girlfriend is that rare combination of pessimism with the occasional flash of hardcore optimism, and a dash of superstition thrown in for good measure. (Actually, that’s probably why everyone assumes she’s Jewish when they meet her.) We’re not discussing national election polling data right now, but as a Golden State native, she is still gloomy about California’s Prop 8, which would amend the state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage. It’s been polling pretty well, although far less well than a similar proposition several years ago. (I’m worried about her state’s Prop 4, which requires parental notification and a state-mandated waiting period in the event of abortion. I don’t know, but when it’s the Knights of Columbus versus American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, I tend to go with the people who went to med school. But that’s because I’m an elitist, I guess.)

My point here is not to induce gloom—although given that Prop 4 has a lead in the polls, by all means, feel that, too—but to point out that the choice between presidential candidates is not the only one you’re going to have to make on November 4th. There are going to be 153 ballot measures this election, which is nearly double the number there were in 2006. And most of these are, you know, fairly big deals. Nebraska’s going to vote on affirmative action. Oregon’s going to vote on mandatory minimums. And, of course, South Dakota’s going to make another attempt at banning abortion, Roe v. Wade be damned.

So, what’s Jewish about all this? Let’s suppose for a minute that there are two main seasons of holidays in the Jewish calendar—the spring cycle of Pesach-Shavuot, and the fall cycle of Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur-Sukkot-Hoshana Raba-Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah (whew!). I love them both, and I really do think they provide essential counterbalances to one another. The spring cycle, though, celebrates a phenomenon in which things were done for the Jews—God freed us from slavery and gave us the Torah. The fall season is a lot more about human fragility and agency—we must ask for forgiveness, contemplate our place in the Book of Life, sit in a hut to remind us of our own temporality, and celebrate that we read the entire Torah another time. These are both vital aspects of life, but it makes a certain thematic sense to me that we vote in the fall, after contemplating our own morality, our culpability, our vulnerability and our joy in the law. I hope it raises our sensitivities a little bit.

Thus I make to you here not just an impassioned plea that, come the 4th, you vote for the candidate of your choice, but that you take the next week to make sure you know what else will appear on your ballot, and what you think about it. If you couldn’t get wifi in your sukkah, do your research now.

–Mel Weiss