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Democracy as the Foundation that Grounds Us

December 6, 2023

When A More Perfect Union launched The Jewish Partnership for Democracy in 2022 to help Jewish organizations strengthen American democracy, we found a receptive audience. Using an impact network model, we connected with Jewish communities and civic groups around the country and asked them to commit to non-partisan, locally based action. In just a few months, we were able to recruit 100 unique commitments from 77 Jewish partner institutions spread across 16 states. The impact was real – and it was clear that we were doing something special.

It turned out that we were also doing something unique.

As we’ve grown, we’ve noticed something peculiar: faith-friendly philanthropy is actually quite rare. Philanthropies tend to separate democracy and faith work, if they have any sort of faith portfolio at all. In fact, one study found that, in 2020, only two percent of “big philanthropy” dollars went to faith-inspired organizations. Yet what we have found is that, at a time of extreme polarization and division, connecting faith and democracy can have incredible results.

This matters for two reasons: first, the American faith community has a tremendous amount to offer the growing movement to protect and strengthen our democracy. In fact, nearly every successful social movement in the United States contained significant participation by the faith community. Second, ensuring a strong and resilient democracy is inextricably tied to safety and success of the American Jewish community.

We have been a “subject people” for most of our history – meaning we have been subject to the whims and prejudices of our rulers with few tangible mechanisms to protect ourselves or advocate for our interests at scale. American democracy – the rights it affords to its citizens and the protections it affords to minorities – has created a foundation upon which we have built an incredible network of sustaining institutions and vibrant communities. Through these groups, we speak, we assemble, we petition, we observe, all loudly and proudly in the public square. As we have seen in the past few weeks, this is the foundation on which we assert and defend ourselves. This is the foundation we must ensure stays intact.

How can the Jewish community do this?

Well, from a faith perspective, the Jewish community is actually an ideal place to start. While the Jewish population is small, it is hyper-networked; highly organized, civically engaged, and extremely open to activation. The goal of the Jewish Partnership for Democracy is to harness this inherent power to help protect electoral democracy in the short-term, and to rebuild a resilient democratic culture for years to come. From expanding civic learning to promoting ideological pluralism and ensuring free and fair elections, our strategic priorities are designed to utilize the comparative advantage of faith communities to strengthen America’s democracy in thousands of mutually reinforcing ways.

Our partners are already innovating, from initiatives that develop journalism programs at Jewish day schools, to study groups at temples and synagogues that analyze American historical documents, to recruiting first-time poll workers as part of the Jewish Service Alliance, to developing new resources to help leaders navigate ideological conflict in the workplace. At A More Perfect Union, we’re elevating and sharing these actions, promoting opportunities for engagement and building a sense of common purpose. We act as “connective tissue,” making sure any interested Jewish institution has access to the best tools and experts in the country.

All this work is also modeling action for other faith populations. Our success in the Jewish community has already been recognized and adapted by organizations like Protect Democracy and Interfaith America into the Faith in Elections Playbook, elevating effective strategies from tightly connected Jewish populations to those that are larger and more spread out. About 75 percent of Americans identify as belonging to a religion. If we can activate these communities to promote democratic institutions and culture, we can exercise and strengthen our country’s democratic muscle, helping to ensure a brighter future for our own children in the process.

There’s another reason why the faith community is vital to the protection of democracy: because we have the ability to bring ethical and moral clarity to contexts in which values matter.

We’ve seen the impact of this ability throughout America’s history. From the abolition of slavery to the fight for civil rights, and from the end of the Vietnam War to nuclear non-proliferation, faith leaders and constituencies have played key organizing roles in situations where moral clarity was essential. At this moment when extreme polarization is threatening to unravel our democracy, that ability to organize around shared moral principles is key.

Our role in strengthening our democracy is clear. It will take work and it will take resources. Every action and every dollar will count as we work to engage more and more Jewish institutions in this collective effort. What will you do to ensure its success?

Sofi Hersher Andorsky is the Vice President of Strategy and Communications at A More Perfect Union.