Congregation Rodeph Shalom Philadelphia Testimony

Dear Chairman Nordenberg and the Legislative Reapportionment Commission: We write as clergy and members of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia. Our synagogue is a member of the Pennsylvania Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC-PA), which also has reached out to you. This testimony supports a fair redistricting process and racially equitable legislative maps. We thank you for running a transparent redistricting process that engaged Pennsylvanians more rigorously than in the past, as well as for explicitly recognizing the importance of racially equitable representation. First, why do we feel so strongly about fair electoral districts? As a Jewish people, we look to our Torah (the “Old Testament”) for guidance about how to live ethically. This ancient text is central to all Abrahamic religions, which touch many Pennsylvanians. Additionally, we look to our Talmud and other commentaries, created over the centuries, for guidance about how to incorporate the teachings of Torah into our lives. From these commentaries, Jews know that we are required to help God improve the world. An example from Torah is Abraham’s argument with God to save even a single innocent soul in Sodom and Gomorrah. Jewish wisdom interprets this as meaning that we must consider every person, not simply the majority or the powerful. We cannot fulfill these mandates unless every eligible person’s voice is able to be heard equally at the polls and that their votes actually are counted as valid. This is why our congregation writes to you today. In reviewing the maps with a grounding in Jewish social justice principles and an eye toward racial justice in Philadelphia, we appreciate changes you have made to the House districts. We do have comments for further improving the Senate districts, which do not adequately reflect significant population shifts toward urban areas and communities in eastern Pennsylvania in the last ten years, resulting in Philadelphians and minorities, among others, having proportionally lower representation. One way to resolve this problem is to create compact districts of equal population and composed of whole political subdivisions to the maximum extent possible, as adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2018 (League of Women Voters of Pa. v. Commonwealth of Pa., 175 A.3d 282 (Pa. 2018)). Currently, this method has been presented to the LRC by Concerned Citizens for Democracy, led by our congregant Brian Gordon. We submit that this method will “naturally reflect the borders and boundaries real people see and experience on the ground…every day,” a goal promoted by Keystone Counts (an organization whose goals the Religious Action Center supports). If this method is followed, there will not be packing or cracking in districts. In the event that there is an unusual circumstance, there can be an exception, with transparent explanation. Following these standards can eliminate gerrymandering, and keep existing communities together, which we know is the LRC’s goal. With that in mind, we particularly thank you for doing just this for District 195, where our synagogue is situated. Currently, part of Strawberry Mansion also is in 195 and part is elsewhere. We appreciate that you put all of our Strawberry Mansion friends into the same district, giving them a stronger voice. We appreciate your progress made thus far and urge you to continue working toward an improved world reflective of the full strength of Pennsylvania’s diversity. Thank you, Rabbi Jill Maderer Rabbi Eli Freedman Cantor Bradley Hyman Michelle Brancheau-Fogg Ellen Kraftsow-Kogan Sarah Friedman Hersh Brian Gordon Muriel Kudera Stephanie W. Strauss Lisa Kagel