By Rhoda Smolow
This Fourth of July, we could sum up recent American life with two words: pandemic and protests. At this moment in American history, two things are clear: with freedoms and rights come responsibilities, and women’s voices are needed more than ever.
This summer, let’s honor both as we mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Let’s commit this Fourth to doing everything we can to help get out the women’s vote this year.
It’s no secret that when the Declaration of Independence was signed, huge swaths of the US population were denied many “inalienable rights,” including the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1870 that the 15th Amendment was ratified, granting Black men the right to vote, and in August 1920 the 19th Amendment followed suit, granting women the right to vote.
These rights weren’t given, they were hard-won, thanks to broad-based movements that persevered over decades — driven by abolitionists and suffragists, marchers, orators, legislators, advocates, religious leaders and social reform groups.
With Rights Come Responsibilities
Pushing for change is a core American value. It’s written into the Preamble of our Constitution: We must always work toward a “more perfect Union” because our nation’s work is far from finished.Sound familiar? It’s not so different than the universal Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing our world. As Mishnaic sage Rabbi Tarfon taught: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either."
American women honor their civic duty. Did you know that eligible women voters have a higher voter turnout rate than their male counterparts? That’s been true since 1986, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Yet women still make up only 19.3 percent of the House of Representatives and 20 percent of the Senate, despite the fact that they bring more federal dollars back to their districts and sponsor or cosponsor more bills than men.
At Hadassah, we believe that when you empower women, you can heal our world. Civic engagement is woven into our being — and takes many forms. Among those marching to support racial justice, many are driven by Jewish values, following in the footsteps of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. After marching for civil rights from Selma to Montgomery, he said: “I felt my legs were praying.” Marching is one tool for change — and for some, far more.
Education and advocacy are key tools in Hadassah’s civic engagement efforts, too. For some, that means meeting with legislators — in person and now virtually — through a Hadassah Day in the District. For others, it means writing letters, making calls and taking action online. For most, it means voting.
A Promise for the Fourth
This Fourth, it’s hard not to think about those two words I mentioned: protests and pandemic. We can’t know yet all the long-term effects COVID-19 will have on our economy, or our nation. Yet already we’re seeing women facing a greater burden than men when it comes to unemployment, domestic violence and caretaking.
We have a civic and a moral obligation to use our voices. And despite differences in our individual politics, we are united by our shared commitment to supporting women, Israel, and healthcare — and to speaking out against hate, racism and antisemitism.
So this Fourth of July, let’s honor the change-makers of the past as we look to the future and the key role we can play as women — and by lifting up women — in creating a more perfect Union.
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