MitzVote drives student voter turnout, campus engagement with Jewish teachings

Jessie Nguyen
Marketing and Communication Specialist
May 21, 2024
·
5
min read

For the latest in our series on organizations that inspire us to take action to build a stronger democracy, Democracy Group community manager Jessie Nguyen caught up with Hillel International Vice President for Engagement and Impact Adina Danzig Epelman. We talked about Hillel's get-out-the-vote campaign MitzVote, the campaign's success over the years, and the intersection of Jewish wisdom and democracy.

Q: What is MitzVote and how did the idea come about?

Adina: College students have historically been a group that has barriers to participating in elections. So Hillel launched MitzVote in 2018 which is a non-partisan get-out-the-vote campaign and civic education and engagement initiative to help get college students more involved in the civic process and elections.“Mitzvot” is a Hebrew word that, in Jewish tradition, refers to guidelines for how to lead a righteous life. We chose the name for MitzVote because being engaged in our local communities and our larger communities in which we live is a religious obligation and we wanted to help students understand that meant participating in the civic process and local elections. According to Jewish tradition, there are 613 mitzvot in our sacred text the Torah. And so we consider voting the 614th mitzvah.

Q: How do Jewish ideas and wisdom help the mission of MitzVote?

Adina: Part of the Jewish religious obligation is to be engaged in our local communities. And there are various texts and curricula that Jewish and non-Jewish students can engage with, in both learning about civics in the American context and also in a Jewish traditional context. Being active participants and making the world a better place is critical to us, to our students, and our mission.The other thing I would say is that American democratic norms and a strong civil society are essential for the diverse communities in this country to thrive. And that is especially true for minority communities — whether it's religious, ethnic, or racial minority groups — that when we have a thriving democracy, all of America's minority groups are better off and it's a stronger country for us all.

Q: With the current political atmosphere being some degree of polarization, how does MitzVote navigate this challenge and promote nonpartisan civic engagement?

Adina: We have a diverse array of partners and we're deeply committed to a nonpartisan approach. Our goal is to get as many students as possible engaged in elections and voting, regardless of their party affiliation or non-affiliation or the issues.Another activity we engage in is ensuring that there are polling places that are accessible for college students. For example, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Hillel became a polling place for the local community and it was one of the very highly-engaged MitzVote Hillel. They did text banking to over 43,000 college students and the whole campus community and tried to increase voter turnout. Wisconsin ended up having one of the highest student voter turnout and maybe the highest voter turnout in the country in the last election cycle.

Democracy's Good News: When Faith and Civics Meet to Strengthen Democracy

On the topic of using Jewish beliefs to guide democratic duties, we recently sat down with the Harbornim Dror Camp Galil and the Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom in the second episode of Democracy's Good News. Both organizations showed us how they incorporate religious beliefs into their civic programming and expressed a commitment to empowering voters and encouraging involvement in local communities through spiritual values.  

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This is Jessie Nguyen, The Democracy Group's Community Manager. Here are some of my favorite podcasts this week, check them out!

Politics in Question: Is the House broken?

An avid fan of political and legal dramas (whose newfound love is for House of Cards!), I enjoyed listening to this conversation that looks at the state of the U.S. House of Representatives! Representative Chip Roy is very eloquent and I thought he made some good points, particularly one where he argues the House is not broken but rather starts to reflect the diversity of opinions like the debt ceiling bill signed last June.

Democracy in Danger: No Good Reason

Around 127,000 Japanese American citizens were incarcerated during an American leadership's "racial panic" after the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. Generations later, families of Japanese American internees still reel from this painful chapter that forced mass relocation and confinement and tore thousands of families apart. We hear from education professor Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas whose parents were interned during this period.

Future Hindsight: Fixing Immigration: Aaron Reichlin-Melnick

With immigration on the ballot this election cycle, host Mila Atmost talked with Aaron Reichlin-Melnick from the American Immigration Council about our out-of-date immigration laws which haven't changed since the 1990s, the underfunded asylum system and their implications on millions of non-Americans working and living in the U.S. If you feel strongly about immigration reform, give this one a listen!

FEATURED EXPERTS

Talkin' Politics & Religion Without Killin' Each Other: John Inazu on LEARNING TO DISAGREE: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect

John Inazu is a lawyer and a professor of law and political science at Washington University in St. Louis where he teaches criminal law, law and religion, and various First Amendment courses. Inazu has authored many critically acclaimed books including his latest, "Learning to Disagree: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect," and published opinion pieces in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Chicago Tribune, etc. He is the founder of The Carver Project and the Legal Vocation Fellowship.

How Do We Fix It?: Amna Khalid on Diversity Is Great. DEI Isn't. Amna Khalid and Jeff Snyder

Amna Khalid is an associate professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota who specializes in modern South Asian history, the history of medicine and the global history of free expression. Khalid is the author of multiple book chapters on the history of public health in nineteenth-century India, with an emphasis on the connections between Hindu pilgrimages and the spread of epidemics. Along with her colleague Jeff Snyder, she writes frequently on academic freedom, free speech and campus politics for The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Republic and The Washington Post, etc.

PODCAST FELLOWSHIP COMMENCEMENT

As the school year comes to a close, we're excited to showcase our spring 2024 podcast fellows on Thursday!

Join us virtually to celebrate the fellows as they share their exciting plans and visions for their shows. They've all done a wonderful job during the fellowship and we hope that you'll leave feeling inspired about the next generation of podcasters!

Mark your calendar:
📅 May 23, 2024
🕔 5:00 p.m. ET

Register to attend

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