Kosher Food Pantry Dishes Out Voter Registration Forms

(Photo by Adam Dickter via The Jewish Week)

Kosher food pantry Masbia serves patrons with a side dish of voter registration forms. (Photo by Adam Dickter via The Jewish Week)

Food pantries may not be the likeliest of locations pushing to register voters. But the Jewish Week‘s Adam Dickter reports that Masbia, a kosher soup kitchen will break the mold and hand out over 2,000 voter registration forms August 15 at three of its locations – Flatbush and Borough Park in Brooklyn and Rego Park in Queens – in an effort to get people to register before the August 16 deadline to vote in the September 10 primaries. New Yorkers can register up to October 11 for the November 5 general elections.

The head of Masbia wants to give a voice to a segment of society too often marginalized and ignored.

Masbia’s executive director, Alexander Rapaport, fears that New York’s needy are less likely to vote, either because of the pressure on their time or out of hopelessness that they can make a difference.

“When the sequester causes air traffic controllers to get a little bit of a cut, the frequent fliers manage to fix it,” said Rapaport. “But somehow food stamps are always on the chopping block, and now they have passed the Farm Bill without the food stamps reauthorization. The interests of the low-income community don’t count.”

Rapaport said the petitions will go to some 600 people eating dinner tonight and another 500 people receiving family food deliveries, for households with two or more eligible voters.

The forms will include versions in Yiddish, Spanish and Korean, a reflection of the diversity of Masbia’s patrons.

Meanwhile, Orthodox umbrella group Agudath Israel of America has also started a campaign encouraging voters to register. Its executive vice president for government affairs, Rabbi Chaim David Zwiebel, underscored the importance of voting as a community when it comes to having a say in government.

“I don’t know that we are doing worse than any other segment of society,” said Zwiebel. “But it is something of a source of frustration when we have so many issues … its important that we have people in positions of authority in government and on the way up who will listen more if they know the community votes.”

“When we see data on voting in some of the hard-core Orthodox communities it is far less than it should be.”

He also brought up one reason why people are hesitant to register – jury duty.

Zwiebel said one of the most common excuses for not voting is fear of being called for jury duty. The organization counters that not voting is in no way a guarantee of staying out of the jury pool, and that jury duty is also a worthy community obligation.