Sunday, October 11, 2020

ELECTION 2020 VOTER GUIDE FOR MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA

This is one of the most important and consequential elections of our lifetimes. We have an opportunity to profoundly change the direction of our country and install new leadership that can unite Americans and steer us toward a much better future. Donald Trump and his Republican enablers have shown that they are unfit to govern or lead. Our country is sicker, poorer, and more divided due to their failures. I encourage everyone to please make a special effort to vote this election cycle.

A note on voting: this year, everyone is obviously extra concerned about their vote being counted. Some general advice on voting.

1. VOTE BY MAIL

Floridians have been voting by mail for a long time and it is generally successful. I will be voting by mail. To vote by mail correctly, however, please carefully review all of the instructions and don't make any mistakes. The official Miami-Dade County Vote By Mail page is here: https://www.miamidade.gov/global/service.page?Mduid_service=ser1512065909614490

Important Tips on Successful Voting By Mail:

- DO NOT WAIT TO VOTE. VOTE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Your vote will only be counted if it is completed and returned to the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections no later than 7:00 pm on November 3, 2020, Election Day. 

- Carefully and completely fill in the oval next to your selections using only a black or blue pen. DO NOT make any other marks on your ballot.

- Place your ballot in the enclosed secrecy sleeve. 

- Insert the secrecy sleeve into the enclosed mailing envelope addressed to the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections. DO NOT USE A DIFFERENT ENVELOPE.

- Seal the mailing envelope and completely fill out the Voter's Certificate on the back of the mailing envelope.

- YOU MUST SIGN YOUR NAME INSIDE THE RED SIGNATURE BOX ON THE BACK OF THE VOTER'S CERTIFICATE ENVELOPE. Of ballots cast using vote by mail, over 7 in 10 are rejected because they have NO signature. In addition, your signature MUST match the signature on record. If you need to update your signature, you can do it now by sending in this form: https://www.miamidade.gov/elections/library/forms/voter-registration-application.pdf

- After mailing your ballot, use the following link to track it and make sure it is accepted by the Supervisor of Elections: https://www.miamidade.gov/global/service.page?Mduid_service=ser151187731708822

- If there is a problem with your ballot - for example, if you forget to sign the envelope, or the canvassing board determines there is no signature match - YOU HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO CURE THE PROBLEM using the following affidavit: https://www.miamidade.gov/elections/library/forms/vote-by-mail-ballot-signature-cure-affidavit-eng.pdf. Of course, the sooner you vote and track the status of your ballot, the sooner you will know if there is any issue, so VOTE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

- You can also DROP OFF your ballot instead of putting it into the mailbox. Voted vote-by-mail ballots are accepted at Early Voting sites and may be dropped off in a secure Ballot Drop Box. Voters can also drop off their vote-by-mail ballot at the following locations from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Monday 11/2/2020 and Election Day 11/3/2020:

  • Elections Department
    (Main Office)
    2700 NW 87th Ave., Doral, FL 33172
  • North Dade Regional Library
    2455 NW 183rd St., Miami Gardens, FL 33056
  • South Dade Regional Library
    10750 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay, FL 33189
  • Stephen P. Clark Government Center
    (Lobby)
    111 NW 1st St., Miami, FL 33128
A list of all early voting sites is available here: https://www.miamidade.gov/global/service.page?Mduid_service=ser1511962555914873

2. EARLY VOTING

Florida voters can also vote before Election Day. The early voting period runs from Monday, October 19, 2020 to Sunday, November 1, 2020. Sites are open from 7 am to 7 pm each day. A full list of early voting locations is available here: https://www.miamidade.gov/global/service.page?Mduid_service=ser1511962555914873

- Remember, there are much fewer locations to vote early than there are on election day, so longs can be long, especially on weekends. I recommend going to vote right when the polls open on a weekday if you want to avoid long early voting lines.

- Make sure to bring a valid form of ID. Best type of Identification – Use if you have it:

  • Current and valid identification that includes name and photograph:
  • Florida driver license;
  • Florida ID card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles;
  • United States passport;
  • debit or credit card;
  • military, student, retirement center, neighborhood association, or public assistance ID;
  • Veteran health identification card issued by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • Florida license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm; or 
  • employee identification card issued by any branch, department, agency, or entity of the Federal Government, the state, a county, or a municipality.

If you do not have any of these identification materials, you can use these:

Next Best type of Identification – USE ONLY if Best Type above is not available

  • ID that shows name and current residence address: current utility bill; bank statement; government check; paycheck; or
  • government document (excluding voter information card).
3. VOTE ON ELECTION DAY

- Remember, on Election Day, you can only vote at YOUR precinct. Make sure to check ahead for the correct location at the following link: https://www.miamidade.gov/global/service.page?Mduid_service=ser151187731708822

- Bring a valid form of ID (see above).

- Lines may be long. AS LONG AS YOU ARE IN LINE BEFORE 7 PM, YOU WILL BE ALLOWED TO VOTE. Stay in line! Bring a snack, some water, and maybe even a little chair. Be ready to wait a long time. If this sounds scary to you, vote early!

PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT

JOSEPH R. BIDEN & KAMALA D. HARRIS

The Trump Administration is a cancer on our democracy that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Americans dead in a tragically mismanaged coronavirus response, a massive recession hurting the most vulnerable in our society, hundreds of right wing judges appointed to federal courts across the country who will set us back for a generation, immigrants and asylum seekers treated with barbarism and inhumanity, tax cuts that only benefitted the very rich and left most Americans behind, rollbacks of regulations and treaties that are resulting in more pollution and contributing to climate change, legal assaults on the rights of LGBTQ Americans in both the courts and administrative agencies, disdain and disregard for the social unrest that is roiling our nation due to police brutality and systemic racism, and a culture of corruption, dishonesty, greed, and hate. Worst of all, Trump has undermined our democratic institutions and set us on a dangerous path toward autocracy and permanent minority rule. 

Joe Biden and Kalama Harris offer us the opportunity to turn the page on the divisive and destructive Trump presidency and renew our democracy. Under a Biden Administration, our government will once again be run by competent, caring people who believe in things like science, public service, and integrity. Biden will enact legislation to balance our tax code so the rich pay their fair share, make investments in health care (including a public option) and education, fight climate change, and so much more. President Biden will install diverse and progressive judges who will protect individual rights and liberties, appoint Cabinet secretaries who will work for the American people, not the narrow interests of the privileged few, and assure that the laws protecting minorities, the environment, civil rights, and so much more are faithfully executed. President Biden will let science lead the way on ending the pandemic and re-opening our economy. Most importantly, a Biden-Harris Administration will bring honor, empathy, compassion, and intelligence back to the Oval Office, and reject prejudice and hate. Our nation and the world will be safer, more secure, and stronger when President Biden takes office.

The choice is obvious and clear. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris must be the next President and Vice President of the United States. 

REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS, DISTRICT 27

DONNA SHALALA

Donna Shalala has done an excellent job in her first term as a Congresswoman. Although Democratic bills have been stymied in the Senate by Mitch McConnell, Donna has voted for a wide variety of measures intended to help Americans, especially during this coronavirus pandemic. In a Biden administration, she will be a strong vote in favor of expanded access to health care, climate change legislation, criminal justice reforms, investing in education, a better tax system that will have the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, assistance to families devastated by the Trump recession, and so much more. Please give Donna Shalala your vote.

CLERK OF THE CIRCUIT COURT

HARVEY RUVIN

For decades, Harvey Ruvin has done an excellent job leading this important office. We need a steady and experienced hand in this role and Harvey brings that in spades. There is no reason to remove this valuable public servant from this post.

JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT

NO - CARLOS J. MUÑIZ

These judicial retention votes are usually meaningless because most voters vote to retain all judges regardless of their record. In fact, no judge has ever not been retained in one of these votes. Nevertheless, I am recommending Floridians vote no on retaining Judge Muñiz. In addition to ranking lowest in the Florida's Bar’s merit retention survey, Justice Muñiz is a political appointee who had no experience as a judge before being elevated by Governor DeSantis as a thank you for being a hard right political operative. He was chief of staff for the terrible Attorney General Pam Bondi (who fought for things like outlawing gay marriage in Florida and crushing efforts to place reasonable local restraints on guns). During this tenure, when it was revealed that Bondi decided not to pursue accusations that then-businessman Donald Trump was running a scam “university” or “institute” in Florida after Bondi took a $25,000 campaign check from Trump, Muñiz ran interference for Trump and Bondi, preparing the talking points for reporters regarding why this decision was justified. Trump University was ultimately shut down in civil lawsuits which exposed it is a fraudulent sham and Trump agreed to pay $25 million to victims. Trump rewarded Muñiz with a post at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

We need more experienced jurists on our State's highest court, not political operatives disguised in judge's robes. While political considerations are not normally a basis to vote yes or no on a political retention (see below for more on this), Justice Muñiz crosses the line. Vote No on Muñiz.

DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL

YES - MONICA GORDO

YES - ERIC WILLIAM HENDON

YES - FLEUR JEANNINE LOBREE

YES - THOMAS LOGUE

YES - BROWYN CATHERINE MILLER

These are all conservative judges. I think politics alone isn’t a reason not to retain a judge, so long as they are reasonable in their judgements. There is no indication, based on the Florida Bar's survey and discussions among members of the Bar, that any of these judges is not fulfilling their duties with professionalism and seriousness. For this reason, despite the fact that these judges do not share my judicial philosophy, I will be voting to retain them.

MIAMI DADE COUNTY MAYOR

DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA

For Miami-Dade County voters, this is an incredibly important election and the choice could not be more clear. Daniella Levine Cava, who has sat on the County Commission for years, has long been a champion for programs and laws intended to help the most vulnerable members of our community and protect our environment. As Mayor, Daniella will prioritize transparency and accountability in County government (taking on corruption), fight for paid family leave and relief for families hit hard by the Trump recession, invest in our infrastructure (included outdated water system and unreliable transit), expand affordable housing, and make Miami-Dade a national leader in the fight against climate change and mitigating its effects on our community. Her opponent is a hard right social conservative and enthusiastic Trump supporter. Let's put a progressive woman into this office and make history!

SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER, DISTRICT 3

RUSS RYWELL

Miami-Dade County voters have an embarrassment of riches with these two candidates, either of whom will make a fine replacement for my dear friend and mentor, Dr. Martin Karp. While I greatly respect and admire Lucia Baez-Geller, my vote is for Miami Beach High School teacher Russ Rywell. I endorsed Russ back during the primary and you can go to my last blog post to read more about why. But I want to share a personal story which I think really demonstrates the type of person Russ is. My mother runs the Jewish Kosher Food Bank in North Miami Beach. Over the last several months, some candidates for local office have showed up to volunteer. When other candidate showed up, they came wearing their campaign tee shirt and tried to get good press. When Russ volunteered, he showed up in regular clothes, worked very hard loading boxes all day, and did nothing to publicize his service. He is the type of person who volunteers at a local Food Bank just because it is the right thing to do and a way to deeply connect with stakeholders in his community. We have an opportunity to put a person with great integrity, intelligence, and passion for education on this board. I am pleased to support Russ for this office.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

Every election cycle, friends and family tell me that they are most confused by the Constitutional Amendments. I study these carefully and am always hesitant to vote yes on any amendments unless they are really important. My analysis of this year's measures is below. Please become informed about these amendments as they are actually very important.

NO. 1 - CITIZENSHIP REQUIREMENT TO VOTE IN FLORIDA ELECTION

NO

This is one of those ballot measures that seems reasonable at first. We all agree - only U.S. Citizens should vote. Here's the issue: that is already the law, both in Florida and the United States. Since that is already the case, why is this ballot measure being introduced? I will let the ACLU explain:

Ballot initiative #1, the so-called “Citizenship Requirement to Vote in Florida Elections,” is cloaked in xenophobia and false patriotism. Rather than strengthen our democracy or protect our elections, it subverts and endangers the right of every citizen to vote. The amendment purports to limit voting to only U.S. citizens. However, federal and state law are already clear that voting rights are strictly for U.S. citizens, and there are no movements to expand voting rights to noncitizens in Florida. Instead, there have been persistent efforts to suppress voter registration and voting. One of the primary routes of such suppression has been through requiring increasingly costly and burdensome verification requirements, which could be enabled or justified by the passage of this amendment.

There is simply no reason for this amendment, which is why I am encouraging you to vote No.

NO. 2 - RAISING FLORIDA'S MINIMUM WAGE

YES

This ballot measure will raise Florida's minimum wage -- currently $8.56 an hour -- to $10 an hour effective September 30, 2021, and then raise that wage by $1 an hour every September for the next five years, until September 26, 2027. By passing Amendment 2, Florida voters will provide a wage increase to one in four Florida workers, greatly reduce the number of households living in poverty, and begin to close paygaps experienced by women and people of color. Raising the minimum wage will also stimulate consumer spending, help businesses’ bottom lines, and grow the economy. A modest increase would improve worker productivity, and reduce employee turnover and absenteeism. It would also boost the overall economy by generating increased consumer demand. Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do to make Florida a better place to live for all Floridians. Please vote yes on Amendment 2.

NO. 3 - ALL VOTERS VOTE IN PRIMARY ELECTIONS FOR STATE LEGISLATURE, GOVERNOR, AND CABINET

NO

This is one of those rare amendments that is opposed by both the Democratic and Republican parties of Florida, as well as groups as disparate as ACLU and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. This amendment would have a negative impact on Black voters and effectively silence their voices. Additionally, it would create a "top-two" electoral system that could prevent voters in the general election from voting for members of their own party in state legislative, governor and cabinet races. The measure also raises First Amendment concerns by hindering political dissent and a political party's freedom of association, as well as the ability to select its candidates and messaging. If we want to get political independents involved in choosing candidates, an Open Primary system is the way to go--that is NOT what this is. Please vote no on Amendment 3.

NO. 4 - [DISINGENUOUSLY TITLED] VOTER APPROVAL OF CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

NO

I vehemently oppose this terrible amendment which would make it much more difficulty, costly, and time-consuming to amend the Florida Constitution. Essentially, an amendment approved by Florida voters would not count unless it passed a second time in the next election. This amendment will greatly increase the difficulty of amending the constitution by any means. In particular, this will significantly limit citizens’ ability to engage in direct democracy, due to the increased cost and time required to bring citizen initiatives to the ballot. In other words, it negates the will of the people and requires them to try again a second time in order to get something passed. It is an effort to stifle the choices Floridians have made to improve our democracy. 

NO. 5 - LIMITATIONS ON HOMESTEAD PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENTS

NO

I agree with the Florida League of Women Voters: no tax sources or revenue should be specified, limited, exempted, or prohibited in the Constitution. Taxes are something that should be done by legislation, not by amendments to the Florida Constitution. If the Florida Legislature wants to pass this law, it should do so in a regular session and have it signed by the Governor. I oppose using the Florida Constitution to change tax laws. 

NO. 6 - AD VALOREM TAX DISCOUNT FOR SPOUSES OF CERTAIN DECEASED VETERANS WHO HAD PERMANENT, COMBAT RELATED DISABILITIES

NO

I oppose for the same reason I oppose No. 5.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY REFERENDUMS

COUNTY REFERENDUM 1: Home Rule Charter Amendment Establishing Independent Inspector General

YES

Checks and balances are important. With a budget of nine billion dollars, Miami-Dade and its administration should have the proper oversight to ensure that taxpayers' money is being spent properly. This should not be a partisan issue, we should all demand a well operated government. An independent inspector general will help end the culture of pay for play and corruption that has too long plagued our country. This is a no-brainer.

COUNTY REFERENDUM 2: Charter Amendment Regarding Elections to Fill Mayor or Commission Vacancies During Primary and General Elections

YES

This amendment would require that when the Mayor or member of the County Commission resigns prospectively to run for another office the vacancy will be filled by election during the Primary and General Election rather than by appointment or by subsequent Special Election. I support this amendment because democracy works when voters know to participate, which is during Primary and General Elections. We should avoid special elections when possible, as they generally have lower voter turnout and incur additional costs to taxpayers. 

COUNTY REFERENDUM 3: Nonpartisan Election of County Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector and Supervisor of Elections

NO

This amendment would require, commencing with the qualifying for and holding of the General Election in 2024, that, contingent on a change to State law, the election of the Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, and Supervisor of Elections be conducted on a nonpartisan basis and that no ballot shall show the party designation of any candidate for those offices. I oppose this amendment. The elected offices mentioned in the referendum increasingly have great influence on day to day operations. Decisions often align with political parties, particularly in areas such as policing and elections. Republicans tend to want to stick to the status quo and protecting those in power, while Democrats push for social justice, progress, equity, technological advances, and protecting the vote of every adult citizen. It is important for voters to have clarity on who they are voting for.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Voter Guide: Miami-Dade County August 2020 Election

 With everyone focused on the upcoming Presidential Election, Miami Dade County voters should not lose sight of the very important election coming up in just six days (Tuesday, August 18th). Below are my recommendations for the offices up in my area (Miami Beach). I hope this is helpful to friends and family.

STATE ATTORNEY, 11TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

    MELBA PEARSON

For the first time in a long time, I am very excited about our choice for State Attorney. While Fernandez Rundle has done some good things in her 27 years in office, it is time for new leadership in this important office that is ready to rise to the task of reforming our criminal justice system to address the systemic issues that plague communities of color and the less privileged. Not only does Melba have the resume to run this important position (16 years as a prosecutor in the DA's office, past president of the National Black Prosecutors Association and the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association in South Florida, and former Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida), she also has a bold plan for reforming the State Attorney's office. Highlights include tackling public corruption, creating a prosecutorial unit specifically tasked with investigating and prosecuting crimes by the police, ending the cash bond requirement for most non-violent offenders, addressing disparities between how white and black children are charged for the same crimes, and so much more. At a time when so many people are asking, "what can I do to advance the Black Lives Matter movement?", electing progressive prosecutors like Melba is one of the most important things we can do to immediately affect real change in our local community. Please join me in enthusiastically supporting Melba Pearson for State Attorney.

MAYOR 

    DANIELLA LEVINA CAVA

Danielle Levine Cava is the obvious progressive choice for Mayor of Miami Dade County. A brilliant and compassionate leader with great experience on our County Commission, Levine Cava is the best woman for the job in a field crowded with conservative men. I thought the Herald endorsement gave a great explanation of why she is the right choice: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article244497367.html

Bottom line: Levine Cava has a history of dedication to fighting for the poor and disenfranchised as an attorney and has good ideas about how to accelerate small businesses, increase affordable housing, invest in public transportation, enact criminal justice reform, and prepare for climate change. Daniella is a dynamic and intelligent leader who will bring people together in our community. I am proud to support her candidacy. 

SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER, DISTRICT 3

    RUSS RYWELL

This is a tough race, with several very compelling and talented persons running who would make excellent School Board members. After much reflection, however, I believe the best person for this position is Rus Rywell. This is a very personal race for me because these individuals are running to replace Dr. Martin Karp, my teacher for six years during elementary school at the Biscayne Elementary gifted program and my friend and mentor who I helped get elected to this office as a campaign coordinator 16 years ago. It seems fitting to me that this spot on the board would go from one beloved teacher, Dr. Karp, to another, Mr. Rywell, currently a teacher at Beach High. After an impressive career in the private sector, Rus returned to his native Miami Beach, where he has had great success working with students. Rus has been endorsed by many prominent groups including United Teachers of Dade. For more on Rus, please check out the Miami Herald endorsement he received here: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article244331142.html

JUDGES  

(Resource: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article244758887.html - I will only offer comments where my recommendation differs)

11TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT COURT 

GROUP 55

    OLANIKE "NIKE" ADEBAYO

GROUP 57

    RODRICK "ROD" VEREEN

GROUP 65

    THOMAS J. REBULL

GROUP  67

    MAVEL RUIZ

GROUP 75

    DAVA J. TUNIS

11TH JUDICIAL COUNTY COURT JUDGES

GROUP 9

    JOSEPH MANSFIELD

GROUP 24

    CHRISTINE BANDIN

PROPERTY APPRAISER

    MARISOL ZENTENO

Mr. Garcia is 84 years old and has held this position for over a decade. His challenger, who has worked beneath him in his office for the last 5 years, wants to make the Property Appraiser more accessible to citizens and will bring new energy to this important job. I believe it is time to support a qualified new leader for this position.

DEMOCRATIC COUNTY EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, DISTRICT 16

    David Geller





Sunday, October 14, 2018

MIDTERMS 2018: VOTER GUIDE

On Tuesday, November 6, 2018, we the people of the United States will have the right to vote in one of the most consequential midterm elections of our lifetime. With Donald Trump and the GOP in firm control of all three branches of government, it has never been more important for us to get out to the polls and restore checks and balances to a system that is dangerously unbalanced and increasingly authoritarian and regressive. At the same time, Floridians are also being presented with one of the most important choices in our lifetimes. In the wake of a constitutional revision committee, we have 13 constitutional amendments on the ballot. It is vital that we make informed and careful choices about these amendments. Furthermore, we also have an exciting opportunity to elect an inspirational progressive leader to the Governor's office, an attorney general who will fight for all Floridians rights, and other important races to consider. I hope this guide will help people make informed choices about all of these races. 

Note: this is geared toward South Florida.

Shakespeare in the Crow’s Nest: a Burning Man Story

2018 was my sixth year at Burning Man. Early in the week, I had an unforgettable experience that, for me, captures what the burn is all about.




I was riding back to camp on Monday night when I came across a giant tower of cars. I was too exhausted to attempt the climb, but vowed to return. 

The next morning I woke up for sunrise and, after a morning ride to deep playa, a yoga class and a cup of coffee, I returned. As I approached, I saw the GRIM REAPER holding a giant scythe and staring, unmoving, at the people going up and down the tower.

As I ascended, I overheard people saying that the tower would soon be closed because it was too dangerous. 

The climb was tricky. I had to climb through windows, or slide out onto the hood of a car, and then pull my body up onto the next car. 

When I finally got to the RV at the top, the bar was empty, save for some empty bottles and books strewn about. One was a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Delighted, I began leafing through its pages. A girl in the RV asked me to read, so I began to recite lines - bouncing around the book - before giving a long recital to the witches’ spell in Macbeth. I was so loud and clear from that high point that people on the ground began shouting their acclaim. 

Inspired, I determined to make my way to the crow’s nest to continue my recital. The climb was so scary, however, that there was no way to bring the book. I gathered my courage and made the steep, final climb. 

Once at the top, I filled my lungs up and recited from memory - in my most theatrical British accent - the following:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps at this petty pace from day to day
Until the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.
Out, out brief candle!
Life is but a walking shadow,
A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing. 

As I exclaimed this monologue from Macbeth, people from all across the playa began walking and biking toward the tower. By the end, several dozen burners had assembled, and upon my completion, they erupted in enthusiastic applause.

By the time I made it down to the ground, the Grim Reaper had moved on. I showed him!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dvar Torah for Parshat Kedoshim

This past week, I had the honor of giving the sermon, or dvar torah, at my synagogue, Temple Menorah, in Miami Beach, Florida.  This sermon touches on aspects of Parshat Kedoshim, Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus.  The speech was delivered a bit different from this text, but this still captures the idea.  I hope you will enjoy it.


Parshat Kedoshim
April 26, 2014
Leviticus 19:1-20:27

Good Shabbas everyone! It is my great honor to be giving the dvar torah today while Rabbi Pearlson helps lead members of our community on the March of the Living.

Sometimes we read parshas that are difficult to relate to: parshas filled with long, obscure passages about the minutiae of the sacrifice services in the Beit HaMikdash.  This is not one of those parshas!  Kedoshim is filled to the brim with relevant, meaningful content about how a regular member of Am Yisrael can live a “kadosh,” holy life.  We are told to revere our parents, keep Shabbat, not turn to idols, take care of the poor, and to not steal, lie, or profane God's name. There are warnings about defrauding people, abusing those with disabilities, and treating strangers badly, and we are instructed to pay workers immediately after their work is completed.  We are instructed not to be deceitful, vengeful, or bear a grudge. There are many laws about sexual relations included here as well. But perhaps the most famous rule in this part of Leviticus is "Love your fellow [sometimes translated as "neighbor"] as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). These are just a sampling of the commandments included following the words "You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy."

All of these commandments are supposed to make us holy.  But what does “holy” actually mean?  In Hebrew, “Kadosh” literally means “separate.”  By following these commandments, we become a nation that is “separate” from the other nations of the world that may not act as God would like us to act.

One of the most important things that makes us separate – kadosh – holy – is our concern for the poor and for justice.  For example, this parsha instructs that “when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.  And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you collect the fallen individual grapes of your vineyard.  You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.  I am the Lord, your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10).

As most of us are not farmers here, this pasuk may require a bit of an explanation.  In ancient times, before modern agricultural tools, people would have to go into the field and reap the wheat by hand.  Inevitably, some of the stalks would fall on the ground.  Similarly, when picking bunches of grapes from a vineyard, some of the individual grapes would fall off the bunch.  The Torah’s attitude is that we are not to pick up the extra, but instead are to leave this for “the stranger and the poor.”  We are also to leave the corners of the field unharvested, so that the poor may go onto our land and harvest the extra. 

Think about this for a moment.  The only way to make this system work is to leave your field open and unfenced.  It is a violation of God’s mitzvot to fence off your agricultural land and make it inaccessible to the poor who would come and take the extra gleanings. 

This pasuk is about more than just how to harvest a field.  It is giving us an attitude about how to consider our plenty.  We cannot be so greedy, that we are maximizing every bit of value at the expense of the poor.  Instead, we are supposed to be generous, to understand that those of us who have been blessed with abundance must always consider how to support the least among us. And we must be open-hearted, opening our fields so that the stranger and the poor may enter.  They must be real and visible to us, not just an abstraction. 

How important is this mitzvah? Consider this story from the Tanach.  Many of you are familiar with the story of Ruth.  Ruth is our most famous convert.  According to the Tanakh, King David is a direct descendant of Ruth.  Because the Moshiakh is said to be a descendant of King David, we believe that the person who will bring our ultimate redemption is the son of Ruth.  Well, you might wonder, who was Ruth’s husband – and how did they meet? 

Ruth was a Moabite woman who decided to adopt Judaism, and moved to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, choosing to become a member of B’Nai Yisrael instead of going back to her mother’s home.  When Ruth and Naomi reached Bethlehem, it was the time of barley harvest.  Ruth decided to go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain – grain that was leftover because of Jewish observance of Kedoshim.  And it is here, in the fields, picking up the pieces of fallen barley, that Ruth meets Boaz, the owner of the field.  Ruth eventually marries Boaz, and together they have a son, Obed, who was the father of Jesse, the father of King David.   

This story has an important lesson.  If Boaz had not followed the mitzvah of leaving the gleanings of the harvest for the poor and the stranger, he and Ruth would never have met and eventually married, and King David would never have been born.  Thus, it is from Boaz’s merit of following the mitzvot of Kedoshim that we may one day receive the ultimate redemption of the Moshiakh.

This should impart an important lesson for our everyday lives.  We must ask ourselves: are we being too greedy and overzealous in our business dealings? Are we so obsessed with picking up every metaphorical “last stalk of barley” that we are forgetting how much it would mean to someone far less fortunate than us to grasp those stalks?  How can we create a life that is more open to the poor and the stranger?  These are the questions that Kedoshim provokes us to answer.

There is one more part of today’s parshah that I want to discuss with you today that connects to our story of Ruth.  In chapter 19, verse 15, God instructs: “You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or respect a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness.” 

Rashi helps explain this verse accordingly.  First, Rashi explains that the verse, “you shall commit no injustice in judgment,” teaches us that a judge who corrupts the law is called unjust, hated and disgusting, fit to be destroyed, and an abomination.  Next, Rashi explains the verse: “You shall not favor a poor person.”  Rashi explains that this means that you shall not say, “this man is poor, and the rich man is obligated to provide him with sustenance; therefore, I will acquit him in judgment, and he will thus be sustained respectably.”  At the same time, the verse says we may not “show respect to the great.”  Rashi explains that this means that you shall not say, “this man is rich, the son of prominent people; how can I embarrass him and behold his shame? That would surely be a punishable act!”  Rather than show favor or respect in either direction, we are to “Judge your fellow with righteousness.”  Rashi states that this is to be given its plain meaning – though another explanation is to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and not to rush to judgment.

Putting this all together, the Torah is making a profound statement about what our attitude should be toward our fellow man.  We are not supposed to look at the poor man with pity, or to the rich man with awe.  Instead, we are to look at each person as a PERSON, a fellow human being, who must be judged not by his material position but based on his DEEDS.  Only by approaching the world in this way can we truly judge “righteously.”  To do otherwise is to act in a way that God abhors.

Again, I am reminded of the book of Ruth.  When Boaz first meets Ruth, think of the disparity in position.  Boaz is a rich man, the owner of plentiful fields of grain.  Ruth, on the other hand, has nothing.  She is a stranger from a foreign land, a convert, a widow, toiling in the Boaz’s fields to sustain herself and her mother-in-law.  Yet when Boaz meets her for the first time, he tells her to stop grazing in the field, and to instead relax with his maidens, and to drink from his vessels, and eat his bread.  She bows and asks “Why have I pleased you that you should take cognizance of me, seeing that I am a foreigner?”  Boaz replied, “It has been told to me all that you did for your mother-in-law after your husband’s death, and you left your father and your mother and your native land, and you went to a people that you did not know before.  May the Lord reward your deeds, and may your reward be full from the Lord of God Israel, under Whose wings you have come to take shelter.” 

When Boaz looked at Ruth, he did not just see a piteous poor stranger.  He saw a righteous woman, a woman who had sacrificed the comfortable life to follow God’s path.  Boaz judged Ruth with righteousness.  He did not favor her because she was poor; he favored her because of her DEEDS. 

Again, this is a story and a lesson that is just as meaningful today as it was 3500 years ago.  I am sure that every one of us has been guilty, at one time or another, or according special favor for a person because they were a “great person,” because they were famous, or rich, or powerful.  We need to remind ourselves that when chosing our friends, our business partners, even our spouse, we must look past the material and judge each person for who they really are, based on their actions. 

On this Shabbat, let us all think about ways we can make our lives a bit more holy, by introducing the principles of Kedoshim into our lives.  Truly then, when we learn to judge our fellow with righteousness and love, and to care for the least amongst us, we will be a holy nation, a nation that will merit the ultimate redemption.  Amen!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Voter's Ballot Guide for the Miami-Dade County, Florida 2012 General Election

With all of the amendments to the Florida Constitution and County Questions on the ballot, a lot of people have been asking my opinion on these questions.  Below is my "cheat sheet" for voting in this election in Miami-Dade County.  I hope it will be a helpful guide for people in determining how to vote in this election. Note that this was my ballot in Downtown Miami; other Miami-Dade County voters may have different choices for County Commissioner, etc.

ADAM’S PICKS - The General Election, November 6, 2012


President – OBAMA/BIDEN

Senator – BILL NELSON

Vote YES to retain ALL the judges

County Judge (Group 24) -- WALLACE

Board of County Commissioners (District 5) – GARCIA

 

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS - VOTE NO ON ALL AMENDMENTS
Most of these items should not be in our Constitution, and they are mostly the result of the State Republican parties efforts. Reject them all.

No. 1 – Health Care Services – NO

This is an attempt to derail the Affordable Care Act in Florida. Reject it.

No. 2 – Veterans Homestead Exemption – NO

This will take millions away from schools and local governments, and will not help the most needy of veterans who are renters and homeless. We can find better ways of helping our needy veterans that does not sacrifice needed revenues for our children and other needy citizens.

No. 3 – State Gov’t Revenue Limitation – NO

This would hamstring government and potentially result in major cuts to important government services.

No. 4 – Property Tax Limitations etc. – NO
 
This would take nearly a billion dollars away from schools and local governments and give it to the wealthiest Floridians.

No. 5 – State Courts – NO

This would interfere with the independence of our judiciary.

No. 6 – Abortion – NO
 
This would further restrict women's ability to get contraceptive care in Florida.

No. 8 – Religious “Freedom” – NO
 
Sounds good on paper, but this amendment is a way for government to fund religious institutions. Vote No to maintain the separation of church and state.

No. 9 – Homestead Exemption – NO
 
This is already Florida law. We do not need a constitutional amendment.

No. 10 – Personal Property Exemption – NO
 
Reject for same reason as #2

No. 11 – Senior Exemption – NO
 
Reject for same reason as #2

No. 12 – Student Body President – NO

This can be done by statute. Inappropriate for the Constitution.
 

SCHOOL BOARD

Bonds – YES

We must invest in our schools to create an educated workforce and improve our economy in the long term.

 

COUNTY QUESTIONS

Commission Term Limits – YES

An important step toward ending careerism and corruption on the Commission.

Technical Amendments to Charter – YES

Urban Development Boundary – YES
 
VERY IMPORTANT TO VOTE YES. Will help ensure we don't have further unnecessary development in the Everglade. South Florida needs to build up, not out.

Creation of New Municipalities – YES

Enforcement of Citizen’s Bill of Rights – NO

Another one with a nice sounding title, but it actually takes away the provision providing for forfeiture of office for violations of the Citizen's Bill of Rights. Let's keep that automatic provision as a check on these violations.
 
Mayoral Vacancy – NO

45 days is plenty of time. We don't need three months of a person running our county government who is not elected by all the citizens.

Mayoral Conflict – NO

This creates more problems than it solves.

Crandon Park – YES

Will keep the Sony-Ericsson tournament in Miami and upkeep a beautiful public resource.

Animal Services – YES

Contracting with Companies Doing Business with State Sponsors of Terrorism -- NO

Another "sounds good on paper", but its a nightmare for businesses. Should be rejected.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Vote Early in Florida!

Today, Sunday October 28, and all this week, polls are open for early voting in Florida. Lines will be shorter and easier during the week, and you can vote at ANY open precinct during early voting. Make Freedom count -- vote early this year. Lets make sure EVERY vote in Florida is counted this year!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



On this MLK Day 2012, I remember how much Martin Luther King, Jr.'s spirit and wisdom was a part of City Year's idealism. The communal space in the center of the office was the "MLK Space;" we talked of creating a "beloved community." We painted his portrait in school murals across Washington DC. One of our biggest service days was on MLK Day itself. City Year has a mission to make this a day for national service. In short, Martin Luther King, Jr. pervaded that year of my life in the greatest way.

Today I want to take a moment to commemorate the legacy of MLK, to ensure that his ideals were not just something I studied for a year, but values that I live every day of my life. His ideals were our greatest American ideals: liberty and justice for all. Peace and brotherhood. Hope and faith.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. day, we must take a moment to pause from the cynicism, divisiveness and pettiness of our politics and remember that America is a great country because great men like MLK sacrificed their lives to make a more perfect Union. Let us honor that sacrifice today by reflecting on what we can do as individuals to make our country and our world a better place.

It os often customary, particularly on this day, to read the "I Have a Dream" speech. Of course I encourage you to do so. But perhaps you are ready for something a bit longer and even more challenging: MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I have just re-read it, and it is a stirring reminder of how deeply unjust our segregated country was, how far we have come as a nation, and yet how much further we still need to go to make our country the "beloved community" Dr. King dreamed of.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: today we honor you.

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