It’s 4 p.m. on a Wednesday in September. I’ve just woken up from a nap on a black pleather couch in the lobby of the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre in between afternoon and evening prayer services. It has been 22 hours since I last ate or drank, but I’m in surprisingly good spirits. It’s Yom Kippur and today is about reflecting on the past year and setting a direction for the upcoming one.
Fasting allows me to think more deeply about which parts of myself I want to strengthen in this New Year. Like most years, I pray for help to be more patient and compassionate towards others and myself—but there’s also something more. The Jewish New Year happens annually, but this year also marks a new four-year cycle for all Canadians: the formation of the next federal legislature, to be chosen by us on Oct. 19. This year my deepest prayer is for help forming a stronger, more just, and more honest Canadian government.
Yom Kippur (“day of atonement”) is like the Sabbath of all Sabbaths in the Jewish year. We shut off from our daily activities to such an extent that we don’t even eat. By cutting out distractions, we go deeper in our prayers to reflect on our actions in the past year and use our mistakes as a means of learning. Yom Kippur is the second High Holiday and the culmination of the 10 days after Rosh Hashanah (the “head of the year”) when Jews practice “teshuvah” (returning to G-d). Teshuvah is a form of repentance with three steps: regret of misdeeds, decision to change our behaviour, and verbal expression of our sins so as to be accountable going forward—like a pledge between us, our community, and G-d.
I’ve spent much of the days between the High Holidays thinking about the past government’s term. This may not be quite as introspective as contemplating how I can be a better sister, daughter, or friend; however, just as I am Jewish I am also Canadian and so I choose to pray with intentionality for myself and my country. My teshuvah isn’t limited to Yom Kippur. This means I am careful to recognize my role in Canadian politics—not just during elections, but all year round.
In reflecting on the devastating last four years of Canadian history, I remember the 2011 election fraud, the gutting of the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Act, the cutting of federal scientists and archives, the reduced accessibility to voting via the Elections Act, the creation of a second-rate tier for citizenship, the tax breaks for exploitative industries that don’t have Canadians’ best interests at heart, and the criminalization of activists speaking up for just climate policy.
In this new term of Canadian politics, we must decide to leave these harmful policies behind. I want a Canada where taxes are used to support groups most in need, such as parents who need daycare, or seniors who need better healthcare. I want our fossil fuel industry to benefit Canadians, instead of citizens’ tax money being used to subsidize companies that concentrate wealth and exacerbate ecological destruction.
Jewish law states we should not profit off activities that harm others or jeopardize well-being. So, I ask that tax revenue from the Canadian fossil fuel industry go towards replacing carbon with renewable energy infrastructure.
I’ve tried asking this of our current government by calling, writing, and petitioning my representative—and I’ve been turned away. A Conservative MP’s staff even called the police one time when four friends and I visited their office to try discussing climate policy. If our elected officials will not listen to our concerns, the next path to a more just New Year is to elect new leaders.
This is why during the High Holidays and the last weeks before the election, I will work on getting out the vote. My teshuvah won’t be complete unless I vocalize my intentions, and I will do so by talking to voters in my area, and sharing my concern for issues of democracy and climate justice. My wish for the start of this next term is high voter turnout. Last election, only 17 per cent of Canadians marked “Conservative” on their ballot. This year, let’s put our best foot forward and elect a government that better represents our intentions for a more just world.
 “Halakhot” (Jewish laws from written and oral Torah) from Mishnah Baba Batra 2:9, Mishnah Torah 11:4, and Leviticus 19:14.
 In the 2011 election, 71% of Canadians citizens were registered voters (80% of Canadians were age of majority). 61% of that 71%—43% of citizens—voted (Elections Canada). Since only 39% of those 43% of Canadians marked “Conservative” on their ballot, 17% of eligible Canadians voted Conservative.