Friday, June 3, marked the voting registration deadline for the June 28 Primary Election. Ahead of this deadline, a united voter registration drive was held at Yeshiva Kesser Torah in Kew Gardens Hills on a recent Wednesday afternoon. The shul, under the leadership of Rebbetzin Trani Rosenblatt and Rabbi Avraham Garber, graciously opened its doors to Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Director of New York Government Relations for the Agudath Israel of America, and Rabbi Yaniv Meriov, CEO of the Chazaq Organization, to encourage the steady stream of congregants to have their voices heard on Election Day.

Rabbi Silber has spent the last number of weeks visiting area high schools and registering students to vote. This became a possibility thanks to a former Governor Andrew Cuomo legislative bill from January 2019, which was passed in his crusade to have more voter access. In January of 2020, a law went into effect allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote. In essence, this means that those aged 16 and 17 can fill out their voter registration applications online, in person at a Board of Elections office, or the Department of Motor Vehicles, and subsequently be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 without further action. There is also the option to fill out cards that are brought into the Board. That is what was taking place at Kesser Torah and how Rabbi Silber manages to successfully register hundreds of students over the year at dozens of similar events.

Agudah collaborates with other local community groups to push voter registration. In Queens, we have proudly partnered with Chazaq and the Queens Jewish Alliance to bring this mission forward. “On my trips to high schools, we go beyond registering the students and provide a civics lesson that includes education on the political process and the work of Agudah,” noted Rabbi Silber. His assistant, Atara Fialkoff, was also on hand. “I have seen the inside scoop on a lot in Jewish advocacy. Most notably was Albany Day, when we saw fruits of our labor.” Eva Wyner, Deputy Director of Jewish Affairs for the Office of Governor Kathy Hochul, also stopped by the drive.

The Queens Jewish Link, like most media publications, often displays coordinated photos of organizational leaders posing alongside elected officials. Behind each snapshot is often a long and detailed story of advocacy and partnership. In the Orthodox Jewish community, these photo-ops have hours of painstaking work that culminate in a gathering of the stakeholders for a celebratory group shot. I say this from the view of a participant in such events.

Recently, upwards of thirty Shevach High School students registered to vote during Rabbi Silber’s visit. “When young people are engaged from any early age, they stay engaged,” explained Rabbi Meirov. “I have seen time and time again that those who register to vote early on stay interested and active in the voting process.” Rabbi Meirov’s organization runs daily programming for teenagers in the Queens area. “By eliminating barriers to register and increasing education, we are strengthening our democracy.”

Sorolle Idels, chairperson of the Queens Jewish Alliance, joined Rabbi Silber at the shul and prior at Shevach. At the school, she took a practical approach in explaining voting to the young women. When you vote for your G.O. head, first several girls vie for the top two slots; this is akin to the Primary, where you can vote for whomever you would like. The winner of that race will run against one other individual. In New York, the winner of the Democratic Primary runs against a Republican in the General Election. However, the due to the demographics of the state, the Democrat generally prevails. Therefore, we must act and vote for the moderate Democrat in the race and utilize our opportunity to make an impact on our community and ensure that our needs are met. If we fail to jump on this chance, we will allow the Progressive voices to clinch a Primary and in turn the General race.

Voter turnout in New York has been low for decades, with small numbers of young people coming out to vote. While New York operates early voting, the state lags on same-day registration, pre-registration, and no-excuse absentee voting. Despite the shortfalls of New York, our state is still the center of attention, as our Senator, Charles Schumer, is the Senate Majority Leader.

“By voting, our communities become relevant,” summarized Rabbi Silber. “It’s simple: Go vote and get responded to.”

 By Shabsie Saphirstein