Maryland’s Jewish community prepares for Election Day

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Two Maryland students participating in a MitzVote program. Photo courtesy of Olivia Hazlett. 

Ben Baruch
@Ben_J_Baruch
For Mitzpeh

Maryland Hillel and the university’s Jewish community at large recognize the importance of this year’s presidential election, now just a few days away. 

To galvanize Jewish voters, Maryland Hillel is taking part in the “MitzVote” program, a nonpartisan initiative from Hillel International that provides voting resources to students. The program received a $500 grant to supply stamps for mail-in ballots and pay for students’ Ubers to vote in person. Olivia Hazlett, Maryland Hillel’s social justice fellow, is running the program at this university. 

During Sukkot, she drew creative parallels between the holiday and voting. Instead of inviting the Ushpizin (the Hebrew patriarchs) into Hillel’s sukkah, Hazlett invited students to equate the sukkah, a “booth” by definition, to a voting booth. She used the four species to represent our senses, which we use to stand up for others. 

Hazlett said that there are an overwhelming number of freshmen participating, which she believes is because they are voting for the first time and voting in Maryland, which is not everyone’s home state. 

She emphasized that this election has increased importance primarily due to COVID-19, which has impacted students’ college experiences, since classes are mostly online and gatherings are limited due to social distancing. She added that the racial equality movement that took place this year also adds importance to this election. 

Sophomore computer science and math major Asher Fink mentioned the nation’s response to the coronavirus as one of the issues most important to him in this election. He was upset at how the current administration has responded to the pandemic. 

“Trump has shown a tendency to create confusion and ignore medical experts, to put it generously,” he said. 

Senior aerospace engineering major Noam Kaplan expressed concern about the ethics of American leadership. He believes “people who are different are able to work together as long as they have shared interests and shared goals,” but does not think that this is currently happening in the United States. He plans to vote for the candidate he feels is more interested in working with those different from him.

Kaplan also said that rather than working together to solve many pressing issues facing the country, everyday Americans are more preoccupied with fighting each other. When this divisiveness reaches our government, it becomes ineffective, according to Kaplan.

Both Kaplan and Hazlett mentioned the importance of voting within the context of Judaism. Kaplan called voting a “fundamental right in America,” which Jews haven’t always been privileged with. Hazlett said voting is a “Jewish practice.” 

Hazlett said that students can pick up stamps through MitzVote from the Hillel building, and students can talk to her if they have any questions, or just want to talk about the election. MitzVote will also provide mental health check-ins during what will likely be an intense election week. 

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