A Sabbath Message: Coping with Election Season – Getting Involved

“Ha-yom katzar v’ha’milacha m’ruba…lo alecha ha’milacha ligmor, v’lo ata ben horin libatel mi’mena.” 

Rabbi Tarfon used to say: "The day is short, the work is abundant…It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you free to neglect it.

– Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) (2:15-16)

With the arrival of the final Sabbath of the month of Tishri, our world turns, and our Torah begins again with the creation story from the very beginning. With the Jewish holiday season behind us, we are all acutely aware of the divisive mood in the country – and for many, it feels painful, bordering on intolerable. In view of this, I will devote the next three weeks leading up to the election to some suggestions as to how we might cope with our current situation. Please understand, this is not coming from a political place – but from one of considering our mental health during this difficult time. An unsettling atmosphere in the country in the best of times is tough enough, but during a pandemic moving into its 9th month adds extra challenge indeed.
Powerlessness – the feeling that there is nothing you can do to rectify a situation – can be one of the worst states and most difficult to cope with, contributing to a truly dark place. When we see what is going on around us – in politics, in the news – and we feel there is nothing we can do, we are left feeling bereft and unable to make an impact. And, again, in the midst of the current global pandemic, this feeling is only heightened, as we are isolated and unable to interact with others as we normally would, not to mention that we may feel powerless and perhaps hopeless about the course of the virus, itself. It probably shouldn’t surprise you that in a recent New York Times article, a Gallup finding was cited in which Americans reported the lowest rates in life satisfaction in over a decade.

If you find yourself feeling this way, there are things you can do and ways to get involved – from the safety of your own home. Again, I’m not suggesting that everyone get involved politically, but if you find yourself upset about an issue, ruminating about it is far less productive than applying yourself and making a meaningful impact with as much or as little time (or funds) as you have. And take it from me, you feel much more empowered once you do. Find a cause you are passionate about and a particular skillset you have expertise in – and put them to good use. There is still time. I will use myself as an example. I am particularly concerned about voter suppression and working to get out the vote for those who think their vote does not make a difference. And I am a good talker – those who know me know I have no problems there. So, I signed up for phone banking and am working on those issues. I cannot say that it is easy to sit on the phone for 2 and 3 hours at a time, but after a session, I feel that I made a difference. Every time I phone bank, I feel less powerless and that I tried to do my part. And it feels good.

One of the most heartening things I have found about this pandemic is the incredible creativity which has emerged. I am reminded of what Fred Rogers always said: “In a crisis, look for the helpers – you will always find people who are helping.” The two young boys pictured above are a wonderful example. These brothers studying robotics in Hemet, California created a project to print high-tech face shields using a 3D printer – and then they teamed up with 7 high schools and 8 elementary schools to print about 15,000 of them since February. They have donated them everywhere – medical clinics, nursing homes, the Navajo Nation, VA facilities, post offices, food/service workers and grocery stores. And now they will be giving them to election workers at voting locations throughout California. What a story – that is what will save us – not what divides us, but what unites us. And in our own community too: I was in a local business the other day and after I paid with a credit card, I was able to put my card in a new machine created to sanitize it – created by local high school engineering students! Amazing! We may not all have those kinds of skills, but we all have something to give which is particularly ours. Even a discussion with a friend or family member to help them develop a voting plan. There is no action that is too small. You too can be one of these helpers, one of those making a quiet meaningful difference in this noisy landscape.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom – a peaceful and restful Sabbath,

Ruth Steinberg, LCSW
Director, Jewish Family Service