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Exercise Your Citizenship

May 13, 2010
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Talk about the intersection of religion and politics. Next week marks two important dates on our Jewish and political calendars: Shavuot and the Pennsylvania political primary.

There appears no obvious connection between the two events beyond the convergence of dates -- polls will close on the May 18 primary just as Shavuot is beginning. But one shared question looms for both: Are enough of us paying attention?

In very different ways, both Shavuot and primary day afford us the chance to stand up and be counted, and make our voices heard.

Shavuot marks the closing of the seven-week period that began on Passover. In our not-always-quite-so-linear religion, the theological path between our liberation from slavery in Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is a straight one. According to tradition, we were liberated for the very purpose of receiving the Torah. By celebrating this central piece of our collective history, we are acting as if we, too, were standing at Sinai. We are counting ourselves among the recipients of the Torah.

Yet as Exponent staff writer Bryan Schwartzman explores in a story this week (see Page 30), Shavuot has historically gotten short shrift among non-observant Jews. Without the drama of a Passover seder or the mystique of a sukkah under the stars, Shavuot -- despite its status as the third major festival in the Jewish year -- seems not to have had the gravitas of these other holidays. And that's kind of odd, given that the Torah represents such a central tenet of our faith. The purposeful timing of confirmation for those high-schoolers who persevere with Hebrew school has helped somewhat -- at least for those involved and their family and friends.

Similarly, primary races, especially during mid-term elections, don't usually get the respect or attention they deserve. Historically, turnout has been dismally low.

This year, in particular, we are electing a number of critically important officials for national, statewide and local positions. Whoever wins the Democratic and Republican primaries will move on to the ballots in November's election. At that point, we will be choosing Pennsylvania's next governor to steer our cash-strapped state out of a budgetary nightmare and a senator to represent us for the next six years in a politically volatile U.S. Senate -- not to mention a host of congressional and state slots up for grabs.

So if it's not already on your Google or Outlook calendar, here's an early reminder to exercise your citizenship: Come May 18, cast your ballot at your local polling station and, later, find your way to a nearby confirmation service. The teenagers on the bimah are sure to give us a burst of optimism as our next generation stands up to be counted. You may even decide to stay and engage in a little Jewish learning. It's the Shavuot tradition.

So happy voting and chag sameach!


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