The Jewish community is standing by to ensure vulnerable families are protected.
It is 2020 and time for another U.S. Census, as proscribed in Article I of the Constitution. As Jews with a long tradition of valuing every soul, we share the national interest of our country in making sure that everyone living in America gets counted.
This includes those who do not have the right to vote— non-citizens, undocumented residents and minors. Making sure that everyone in our neighborhoods, cities and states is noticed is at the core of what it means to be part of the American and Jewish communities.
Historically, the Census was a way of enabling everyone in this great land to be represented. As the Carnegie Foundation explains, the Census “differed sharply from the Colonial censuses … [which] were tools for the powerful — control and tax the population, exploit natural resources, and so forth. The American census flipped this 180-degrees, building on the Boston Tea Party cry: ‘No taxation without representation.’ … for the Founders, the right to be represented was fundamental, even more fundamental than the right to vote… as the latter was restricted to adult white male property owners …”
Even though in the Torah portion of Ki Tisa (Exodus, 30:11-16) the half-shekel used to count the Children of Israel only included military-aged men, it did seed the empowering idea of an active census: that we could not leave it only up to God to count us — as happened in the past in the Torah. Instead, through this half-shekel, which symbolized a bit of effort, it was ensured that the people were noticed and counted. Nowadays, we can compare the half-shekel to the small amount of time needed to fill out the Census.
While the Census is important to gain population and demographic data, its symbolism might be even more important because it shows how much of an impact we all make, including those who are not citizens of the United States. We are part of a huge effort to represent our states in the ultimate count, as in the Biblical times, the Israelites were part of a huge effort to raise the silver needed for the Sanctuary. Without our input in the Census, our society would be missing something important, a half-shekel of individuals all with infinite worth.
This is why we have to ensure, as a society, that we protect those populations mentioned earlier. When we ask those who might not want to be noticed to step forward, they are taking a risk and are vulnerable. Therefore, U.S. law is strict about the privacy of Census responses, as stated on the website of the U. S. Census: “When you respond to the Census, your answers are kept anonymous. They are used only to produce statistics. The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential.”
Of course, this assurance by the government can sound scary and, understandably, it may even sound suspect, but the Jewish community is standing by to ensure these laws are kept and these vulnerable individuals and families are protected. As you read this, many in the community, including those of us at JCRC/AJC, are finding ways to volunteer for the Census in order to make sure that everyone is counted and, importantly, safe.
Whether we just answer the call of the Census or help to ensure all those around us are counted, let us hear the call of our Jewish and American traditions: Everyone has infinite value, everyone counts and everyone deserves to be noticed, to be cherished and to be protected.
Households will begin receiving the official Census Bureau mail in mid-March, leading up to April 1, which is Census Day. By this date, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the Census by phone, online or by mail.
Michigan stands to lose an estimated $1,800 of federal funds per year for every person not counted in the Census. The state may also lose a congressional seat, resulting in a decrease in the number of seats held by Michigan in the Electoral College.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin is executive director of the JCRC/AJC.