In 2012, Joanie Shubin and I started a grassroots group, Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon, Atlanta. We created JDWS to provide an opportunity for Jewish women to come together to educate and empower ourselves to take action for progressive change within our community. We understood then, as we do now, that by focusing on local issues we could maximize our impact.
Why was JDWS necessary? Because of the legislation coming out of our Republican-dominated state government. Georgia’s governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and the General Assembly have remained under Republican control since 2004. This year we are counting on Georgians to vote down-ballot and change that, flipping the 16 House seats that would, at last, give Georgia Democrats control over one state legislative body.
As Jewish women, we understand that standing in silence is akin to complicity. We are committed to acting on our Jewish values, values that require that we stand in opposition to laws that allow Georgians to carry guns in spaces we consider sacred, including our places of worship (Georgia House Bill 60, passed in 2014) and even on college campuses (Georgia House Bill 280, passed in 2017). As Jews, we believe that our state government has an obligation to pass laws that protect us from gun violence and encourage safe gun ownership.
In 2019, our Republican legislature passed Georgia’s abortion ban (House Bill 481), a bill that fortunately has been stayed by a federal court on the grounds that it is clearly unconstitutional. This bill would have banned abortions at around the sixth week of pregnancy, before most pregnant women even know they are pregnant. As Jewish women, we believe that Georgia’s women have a fundamental right to self-determination over their own bodies. No government should make deeply personal reproductive choices on behalf of its citizens. This issue has become even more imperative now that our Supreme Court will likely be indelibly changed. As a result, we should expect that abortion rights will likely be turned back to the states, and our state legislature has certainly made it clear where they stand on this issue.
Respect for the well-being of others is another fundamental Jewish value. As Jewish women, we believe that healthcare is a human right. Gov. Brian Kemp’s refusal to expand Medicaid has kept 240,000 Georgians from accessing even the most basic preventive health services. In 2020, we watched as Kemp repeatedly defied health recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designed to protect us from the COVID-19 pandemic. The result was the unnecessary death and illness of thousands, a tragedy that, contrary to Kemp’s assertions, has arguably damaged our economy in far greater ways than a swift and comprehensive quarantine would have done.
After years of work toward a bipartisan state hate crimes bill, it took Ahmaud Arbery’s tragic death to convince Georgia’s Republican legislature to support the passage of House Bill 426. These bills don’t just happen; they take massive amounts of grassroots organizing to raise awareness and persuade our elected officials that they have taken an oath to represent all of us, not just their partisan loyalists. As Jewish women, we believe we have a collective responsibility to stand in opposition to hate and to promote racial equity.
The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the many archaic laws that are part of Georgia’s racist history. These laws include a citizen’s arrest law established in 1863, a stand-your-ground law established in 2006, and a system of cash bond rules that disproportionately discriminates against the poor and people of color. While Georgians continue to wait for criminal justice reform, in 2019 our legislators chose instead to extend additional protections to Confederate monuments (Senate Bill 77).
In the meantime, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state continues a pattern of voter disenfranchisement that denies people of color equal access to voting in our state and tips Georgia’s elections in favor of the status quo: political domination by a single party focused on the well-being of the few over the well-being of the many.
Politics matter. Elections matter. These sorts of destructive laws are the product of a Georgia Assembly that continues to pass bills that fail to follow the Jewish mandate, “Justice, justice, shall you pursue.” We are commanded to pursue justice, to seek out and demand justice whenever we confront injustice. The pursuit of justice is intended to be an active process that requires participation from all of us. Get to know your local Georgia House and Senate candidates and decide which among them most align with your core Jewish values.
For us, the decision could not be clearer.
Valerie Habif is a co-founder of the Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon, Atlanta.
- Georgia election
- Joanie Shubin
- Valerie Habif
- Jewish Democratic Women's Salon
- Georgia House Bill 60
- Georgia House Bill 280
- Gun Violence
- House Bill 481
- Supreme Court
- Brian Kemp
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Ahmaud Arbery
- House Bill 426
- Black lives matter
- abortion ban
- General Assembly
- citizen’s arrest law
- Gun Control
- Hate Crimes
- racial justice