Congregation Beth Or-Comments on Racial Equity

Dear Chairman Nordenberg and the LRC: As the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, Montgomery County, I am writing on behalf of our community of 1000 families to share our perspective on the preliminary district maps created by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. We at Beth Or, as one of the 40 Reform Jewish synagogues in the Commonwealth that are collectively comprised of approximately 40,000 citizens of Pennsylvania, are focused on the need for fair and racially equitable legislative maps. Jewish sacred legal text teaches “a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted.” This important precept leads us to advocate for maps that will provide all Pennsylvanians, especially marginalized groups and racial minorities, with adequate representation. We are pleased to see that the LRC’s preliminary maps reflect the growth in Pennsylvania’s communities of color and give minority voters more representation than in years past, and appreciate the hard work and effort that went into both creating more equitable maps and making the process more transparent. Recognizing that the LRC will likely face pressure to retreat from the improvements you have made, we urge you not to give in to those who advocate for districts that do not give equal voice to communities of color. We also trust that you will follow through with your commitment to creating minority opportunity districts by ensuring that this feature is preserved, or even enhanced in the final maps. While the draft maps are an improvement over the current districts and do address many issues of equity, the Senate map distributes the population inequitably, penalizing urban residents and minority communities. Over the past ten years there has been a decline in rural/western areas and growth in more central and eastern cities; the LRC’s Senate map does not adequately represent these shifts. In Southwest and Central PA, the map draws many districts with populations significantly below what might be expected, while in Southeast PA, several districts are drawn with populations larger than one would expect. This means that individual voters in Southeast PA have less of a representative voice, an inequity that needs to be addressed. We urge you to correct this malapportionment and vote dilution by creating more Senate districts in Southeastern PA. Our community thanks the LRC for its continued attention to these issues of equal representation, and look forward to seeing final district maps that reflect the Commission’s commitment to creating districts that allow the voices of communities of color to be heard. Sincerely, Rabbi Gregory Marx Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth Or