Alienating the electorate

Harper’s choice of October 14 leaves Jewish community “disappointed”

The Federal Election is set for Tuesday, October 14, 2008.
The Federal Election is set for Tuesday, October 14, 2008.
Photo: 
Josh Zelikovitz, ArtSci ’10
Josh Zelikovitz, ArtSci ’10

It came as no shock to most political observers when, acting on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Governor General dissolved parliament and declared a Federal Election for October 14. A call for the 14th was a near certainty given the timing; an earlier election would have conflicted with Thanksgiving Monday, while a later one would have clashed with La Francophonie summit in Quebec City. But an election for October 14th is quite troubling for many Jewish Canadians. It falls on the first day of Sukkot, a major Jewish holiday and a day on which observant Jews are forbidden from acts of work, including casting ballots.

 As a member of a liberal democracy as diverse and pluralistic as Canada, I understand that accommodation can at times be difficult, especially in relation to the often complex laws of Judaism. I also recognize, and am thankful for, the systems in place that will allow observant Jews to vote, even if they may not be able to take part in all forms of political participation. The Jewish community is not outraged. No one is rioting or calling for boycotts. But with Stephen Harper’s decision to hold an election on one of our most sacred days we are aggravated, and quite frankly, disappointed.

Like many Jewish holidays, the first two days of Sukkot are considered Chag (a special day), meaning many acts of work are forbidden, including writing and driving—two things often required in order to vote. An observant Jew, therefore, would not be permitted to take part in Election Day. Furthermore, observant Jews would be unable to serve on that day as election volunteers.

This is not to say Jews will be unable to vote. Canadian election laws allow the casting of early ballots.

Sukkot is a festival holiday, similar to a Jewish Thanksgiving. Thousands of years ago, in the times of the Jewish Temple, Sukkot was a pilgrimage holiday where Jews throughout the Land of Israel were required to journey to Jerusalem.

 Today, the holiday is best known for the Sukkahs—small outdoor huts the Jews lived in while wandering the desert—re-constructed annually to thank God for His protection of the Israelites during the 40 years between slavery in Egypt and freedom in Israel. The holiday is also associated with concepts of harvest and renewal.

Under Jewish Law, Jews who encourage or assist other Jews in breaking the laws of Sukkot or other holidays have committed transgressions similar to if they themselves had violated the holiday. Therefore, in the run-up to the election, many religious Jews will be hesitant to involve themselves in many aspects of political participation, such as campaign volunteering, out of fear that they may be encouraging other Jews—especially secular Jews—to vote on Election Day, thereby violating the holiday.

  The net result is a sentiment among many Jews that the Jewish community has been disenfranchised by the political elite. Canada has come a long way from its situation mere decades ago when restrictive covenants barred Jews from owning land in many parts of this country, when many institutions of higher learning, such as McGill University and Université de Montréal, had strict quotas on the number of Jews admitted and when Jewish refugees attempting to escape the Holocaust were systematically denied entrance to Canada. Despite this progress, many Canadian Jews feel hurt by this decision.

 As a political studies major and Canadian politics junkie, I am also surprised by this move. Stephen Harper has been working tirelessly over the past few years to court the historically Liberal Jewish vote.

 His gains have put him within striking distance of several Liberal incumbents in the GTA, such as Joe Volpe in Eglinton-Lawrence, Carolyn Bennet in St. Paul’s and Susan Kadis (herself Jewish) in Thornhill. All three represent heavily Jewish neighbourhoods previously seen as Liberal strongholds, but which have recently appeared increasingly Tory blue.

However, with resentment generated as a result of Harper’s Sukkot election call, the predicted shift in the Jewish community from support of the Liberals to new support for the Conservatives appears to have been at least diminished, if not nullified.

Josh Zelikovitz is the president of Queen’s Hillel 

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