An election on a Jewish holiday: A challenge to overcome
OpinionGuest Columnist

An election on a Jewish holiday: A challenge to overcome

The May 18 Pennsylvania primary is on Shavuot. Here's how to vote if you can't make it to the polls.

(Photo by Element Five via Pexels)
(Photo by Element Five via Pexels)

When I learned that the Pennsylvania Primary Election would be held on May 18, I was frustrated.

A quick glance at a calendar won’t sound alarms for the vast majority of Pennsylvanians. That’s because many calendars miss the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

For Orthodox and traditionally Sabbath observant Jews like myself, May 18, the second day of Shavuot, means no writing, no driving or taking buses, no working. And that means no travel to the polls. No careful darkening of ovals with blue or black ink. Instead, thousands of Pennsylvanians will be swaying in holiday prayer, enjoying festive meals with family and celebrating the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

The calendar clash was actually brought to my attention by a synagogue rabbi many months back. With a most admirable commitment to voting and civic engagement, he was distressed. I have worked with this rabbi on fruitful advocacy activities and get out the vote campaigns and he was entitled to his disappointment and subsequent musings: How do we feel about the selection of this date? And the operative question, what do we do?

My years working as the executive director of Teach PA prepared me for this. Teach PA organizes Jewish day schools and their communities, advocating for resources and programs so these schools can be safe, affordable and good quality.

Preserving Jewish communities and Jewish heritage through education underlies our mission. We work to strengthen our voice and then exercise it, by voting and engaging our legislators.

As a nonpartisan organization, we educate our constituent communities across the commonwealth about registering with whatever party they’d like and voting however they’d like … but to register and vote. Stop kvetching, start voting, we scream from carpool lines and on robocalls!

But what happens when barriers exist, making exercising your voice harder?

We educate.

We are lucky in Pennsylvania to have a safe and efficient way to make your voice heard when you can’t get to the polls. All Pennsylvanians can vote by mail and your vote will count.

So, is an election on a Jewish holiday, when many cannot go to the polls, frustrating?

Yes, it is. But we’re up for this challenge — the challenge to get our friends and family and school and synagogue communities to take these extra steps: Go online, request a mail-in-ballot and when you receive it, vote safely and efficiently from your own home.

Or if you savor the in-person voting experience, go to your county elections office before Election Day, request your mail-in ballot in person, and vote right there on the spot.

We’ll work in the future to reduce conflict between religious practice and voting in person. A safe voting experience is treasured by so many individuals and families and is an incredible way to model voter responsibility and excitement.

With strong voter engagement, more Pennsylvanians have a voice. We must take this opportunity to show that despite challenge, we are up to the task. A calendar might miss our holiday, but there’s too much at stake to miss this election.

Request your mail-in ballot here. PJC

Arielle Frankston-Morris is the executive director of Teach PA. For more information, visit

read more: