I have always been a political junkie. And this presidential election has certainly captured my interest – and of many other people, I imagine. The debates have certainly been entertaining, to say the least. The faith of the candidates in both parties has been a focus of news coverage. And so has Bernie Sanders’ Jewishness and Kibbutz experience; Hillary Clinton’s Jewish son-in-law and why he hasn’t been campaigning; Donald Trump’s Jewish daughter and grandchildren; and of course how all of the candidates feel about Israel and the never ending peace process.
In 2012, there was much written about Rabbis for Obama that had hundreds of rabbis in the group. Today, there is a Rabbis4Hillary website with a small group of rabbis who have signed on. No Facebook page yet. Rabbis for Bernie has a Facebook page with just 14 likes. There was a Facebook page for Rabbi for Trump. But Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg recently changed his mind and dropped his support. And there was an article on Facebook I found listing a group of rabbis from throughout the U.S. who support Senator Ted Cruz’s candidacy for President.
Synagogues – and their leadership – have to be careful regarding elections. Synagogue boards can’t endorse candidates for any office. If you invite one candidate, or a surrogate, you need to invite the others who are also running. Synagogue leaders can advocate for a specific issue – income fairness, two state solution for Israel and the Palestinians – but you can’t come out and endorse a candidate.
The Rabbi’s – or even the synagogue president’s – name can appear on a paid political advertisement endorsing a candidate. But when the ad also notes his/her synagogue affiliation and title, or that of the president, that is a no no. Any violation of all of these election rules has impact on the IRS’s view of a synagogue’s – or any house of worship – not-for-profit status. And that, in turn, impacts everybody in the synagogue community, especially regarding charitable donations.
Have a Candidates’ Night and invite the candidates or their surrogates. Whether it be during the primary season or the general election, you will be doing a great service to the congregation and to the community at large.
Another thing synagogues can do is a Voter Drive. Be sure every congregant, and even members of the general community, who is a citizen is registered to vote. As many synagogues have volunteers who drive people to Shabbat Worship, engage congregants in a similar fashion to drive people to polling stations on Election Day. I have always been amazed at my neighbors who don’t even bother to go and vote. For some, the process has to be made to appear as if it is easy, and not a burden.
Something is wrong when we get excited when voter turnout for presidential elections is more than 60%.