This Tuesday morning, I wore my kippah, the customary head covering many Jews wear in synagogue. We cover our heads as reminder that God is always present.
As I entered the local elementary school to vote, I donned my kippah. I don’t wear a kippah all the time. Typically I wear one when leading prayer services or when teaching a class or when officiating at a wedding or funeral. I don’t wear one when doing any manner of everyday activities, such as grocery shopping or going for a walk or for that matter, venturing to town hall.
This occasion, however, needed to be sanctified–most especially this year, and during these times.
Voting seems like such a mundane affair. Here in New York, one walks through a side entrance at the local school, finds the table designated for one’s voting district, tells the election worker one’s name, signs the form and then takes the ballot. It takes a few minutes to stand in this make-shift voting booth and color in all the bubbles for one’s candidates of choice. And then the long ballot is placed in the voting machine and after a brief moment, the words appear, “Ballot cast.”
It seems so ordinary. It seems so minuscule to color in bubbles, especially as weighed against the daunting challenges our nation confronts. I wanted the moment to feel more significant. And so I placed the kippah on my head as if I was entering a sanctuary.
For millennia, Jews were denied the rights of citizenship in the lands they inhabited. I reasoned, the right to vote should feel like a religious obligation. This is a privilege still denied to so many throughout the world. However mundane coloring in bubbles may feel, I did not want this election day’s importance to be minimized. Especially after the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue I wanted to reclaim my religious devotion to this nation. Here, people of different religions and ethnicities are bound together by our shared faith in the American dream.
Voting binds us together. Democracy hinges on this moment.
Choosing not to vote is to cast aside this nation’s most sacred gift. Voting must be imbued with religious devotion.
Here I can wear my kippah without fear. Perhaps I should be afraid. People might think that it is foolish to declare my faith publicly, especially in the face of recent events and growing antisemitism. I will not be deterred. People might as well become uncomfortable with this mixture of religion and politics. Then again, perhaps the best response to the right’s blurring of these lines is to reclaim the religious import of voting.
Never before has a black pen felt so weighty. Never before has coloring in bubbles felt so important. I tried to take in the holiness.
Voting is a sacred endeavor. It must not be trifled. It cannot be denied.
Can a kippah rescue our devotion?
I hope and pray.
Rabbi Steven Heneson Moskowitz is the rabbi of Congregation L’Dor V’Dor, a vibrant synagogue on Long Island’s North Shore. His writing appears in a variety of publications including Reform Judaism and The Times of Israel. He also blogs at rabbimoskowitz.com