Saving the soul of the nation, one vote at a time


By Rabbi Susan Talve and Sara Ruiz

“Ashrei,” is the first word in the Book of Psalms.  Often translated as “happy,” “ashrei” can also mean forward and upward. 

For 38 years, Central Reform Congregation has worked to move our region forward on a path towards justice and dignity for all. This year, we’re thrilled to share that the latest tool we’ve developed to keep pushing forward is the birth of a new non-profit organization of CRC called the Ashrei Foundation. 

The Ashrei Foundation, with Rabbi Susan Talve serving as founder and CEO along with Sara Ruiz as the first executive director, provides an engine for the membership of CRC to extend the social justice core values of the congregation not only within CRC, but throughout the region. 

The Ashrei Foundation exists to empower and activate the St. Louis community and partners throughout the state of Missouri to promote economic justice, to relieve suffering and interrupt cycles of poverty. We imagine a just Missouri where the way we look, where we are from, or who we define ourselves to be does not limit our access to quality and affordable healthcare, education, housing, technology, and economic stability.

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At Ashrei, we found ourselves in a unique space to address the most recent attack on democracy: the new restrictive photo ID requirements for voting that were included in House Bill 1878. There are many provisions of this law that unjustly restrict access to the polls and criminalize many who work (or volunteer!) to register people to vote. 

This law makes Missouri’s requirements some of the most restrictive in the nation by eliminating all but two forms of previously established photo IDs to vote, thereby expanding the reach of this voter suppression tactic. Voters in Missouri are now required to present a valid, non-expired photo ID issued either by the state of Missouri or in some cases, the federal government. Your student ID? Not accepted. Your 90-year-old grandmother’s long-expired driver’s license? Not accepted. 

These unnecessary restrictions make it harder — and sometimes impossible — for working families to take time off work, lose income, travel to the Department of Motor Vehicles office, wait in lines often more than 2-3 hours, compile and present the required documents (a two-page list even for a non-Real non-driver ID!), and in most circumstances, pay the fee. For many families, low-wage workers, students, the elderly, the differently abled, the unhoused, communities of color already facing disproportionate barriers, these obstacles to the polls result in the suppression of these voices.

As Jews, we understand that democracy is strongest when the electorate reflects the population and that it suffers when citizens are shut out from the democratic process. Voting is how we determine our future. It is how we fulfill the Talmudic teaching that a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted. 

Building community power and shifting racist systems that attack the very soul of our democracy, the right to vote, relies on building intentional relationships and deep trust. Partnering with the MO Voter Protection Coalition (led by CRC member Denise Lieberman), the State ID Access Coalition of St. Francis Xavier College Church, the League of Women Voters, the Tabernacle Community Development Foundation (TCDC) and others, Ashrei trained more than 60 volunteers in June and July, and then held the first North City Photo ID Clinic on Aug. 25. 

With the support of roughly 25 volunteers from more than five congregations, and the dedicated staff of TCDC, College Church and Ashrei, the 4-hour clinic served 21 individuals and covered the costs of 21 Missouri birth certificates, 6 Missouri photo IDs, and 4 out of state birth certificates. The overwhelming majority of clinic participants identified as Black, female and under 40 years old. We were even able to distribute 72 bus fares that day to ensure folks had the means to get to the DMV or Vital Records Office. We continue to receive calls for help daily and have scheduled another clinic at the TCDC Hub on Sept. 10. 

Truly moving our region forward does not mean a simple rearrangement of current conditions, but rather, demonstrates the eradication of injustices and inequities and the introduction of the structures that guarantee the freedom, dignity and infinite worth of every individual. The fight for freedom and democracy in this country is the story of the fight for the right to vote, a fight the Jewish community has long been committed to. 

What is happening in Missouri right now is part of the nationwide attack on the growing political power of Black, brown and minority communities.  Working together, Ashrei and CRC and our many partners will continue to move our vision forward, to a more inclusive and more just community and nation for all. 

To learn more about the work of the Ashrei Foundation and to get involved, please visit