Redistricting can be a complex and seemingly abstract topic. This is unfortunate because it is also an extremely important topic. The way maps are drawn affect a community for at least a decade, and often longer.
Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, Agudath Israel of Illinois' director of government affairs, testified before the Chicago City Council on the city's redistricting process. He explained that currently the Orthodox Jewish community of West Rogers Park and Peterson Park is primarily concentrated in one ward, but at risk of being split, which would dilute the political voice of the Orthodox community. The Orthodox Jewish community is a "community of interest" that is unfortunately is often overlooked in this process, despite its unique needs.
Soroka spoke to the history of the Orthodox Jewish community in Chicago and explained how an independent educational system is imperative for the survival and growth of Orthodox Jewry. He also explained that with antisemitism on the rise, security is a major concern for Orthodox Jews who are easily identifiable, and therefore more vulnerable. There's also a general lack of awareness and understanding regarding the Orthodox community. It is therefore of vital importance that their elected representatives understand and appreciate their cultural sensitivities and their need for certain accommodations.
Rabbi Soroka concluded his testimony by asking the body to take the needs of the Orthodox Jewish community into consideration while in this process, saying, "We need representation that understands our history, culture, needs, and values to be effective champions. Carving up the community will dilute our political voice and will harm our ability to continue to grow and thrive.
In testimony to the New York State Redistricting Commission, Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudah's New York Director of Government Relations laid out a strong case for proper representation of the Orthodox Jewish community in both Congress and in the State Legislature.
New York State law calls for consideration of "communities of interest" when drawing legislative districts. The Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn is certainly a community of interest with a common culture and religion, an abundance of kosher food stores and restaurants, countless charitable organizations serving virtually every human service need, and a network of yeshivas at which students are taught a dual curriculum of both Judaic and Secular studies. It is this education system, explained Rabbi Silber, that is largely responsible for the phenomenal growth of the Orthodox community in Brooklyn and elsewhere.
However, rather than being condensed within their own districts, the Orthodox community has been divided into at least five congressional and several assembly districts.
Through a spirited question and answer session with members of the commission, Rabbi Silber cited concrete examples of how districts should be apportioned and promised to provide the commission with detailed maps illustrating how those districts should be laid out. (See full video of testimony here).
Rabbi Silber also pointed to the inequity in Rockland County, where the Town of Ramapo, which contains most of the Orthodox communities of Greater Monsey, yet is divided into three Assembly districts, the only town in the entire state so divided.
The New York State Redistricting Commission, comprised equally of Democrats and Republicans, was formed as a result of a constitutional amendment passed by the voters of New York State in 2014 and is charged with drawing new legislative lines based on the results of the 2020 census. The commission must submit maps to the legislature no later that February 28th. The legislature can either accept the commission maps or substitute with lines of their own.