Voices from the Field
On Thursday, March 5, I woke up feeling unusually festive, and drove to the Israeli Consulate in downtown Chicago to exercise my right to vote for the 20th Knesset of the State of Israel.
I have never missed a vote in Israel. Even when I went on my big "post-army" trip to India and an early vote for a new government was called, I shortened my trip to return to Israel so I could vote. I have always felt it was a great responsibility and obligation.
This election, for the first time in my life, I voted for the Knesset from outside of Israel. I was gripped by a sense of excitement and responsibility even deeper than usual. It was a surprising feeling I wasn't prepared for, and it has taken time to digest and understand why this time felt so different.
At first, I thought it might have been the distance which magnified the responsibility, making me feel a sense of necessity, or even urgency. I am not currently living in Israel, yet there I was, on the day of elections at the Israeli Consulate in a sort of Israeli territory, feeling like I was actually in Israel.
The deeper I thought about my feelings, the more I realized they stemmed from a deep understanding and identification with the North American Jewish community.
For thousands of years, what happened in one Jewish community did not necessarily affect the identities of other Jewish communities around the world. But after the establishment of the Jewish State, that paradigm changed.
In the past, when I voted in Israel, I felt that my vote would influence the future of the State of Israel. During this election, however, after living in America for one and a half years as a shlichah (שׁליחה, "emissary"), I understand that my vote matters not only in Israel, but that it also has a critical impact on the identity and life of the Jewish people here. It was this understanding that explained my greater sense of duty.
The post I put on Facebook with the picture of me voting at the Israeli Consulate got more "likes" than any I had posted before; way more "likes" than articles, pictures of trips, or even pictures of my children had received.
The reaction people had to my Facebook post showed me how much pride the North American Jewish community has for the future of Israel and the Jewish people. My vote is, in many ways, all of our votes. It elicited a feeling too big to begin to put into words.
Tal Shaked is the Midwest Education Israel Emissary for JNF. She arrived to Chicago a year and a half ago with her husband and 3 kids. In the US, Tal is working with different communities - schools, synagogues, and colleges running JNF’s educational programs focusing on Israel and Judaism.
In Israel, Tal was the visionary and founder of the first secular yeshiva in Israel, a center for hundreds of young adults who learn and are involved with Zionism, Jewish identity , social justice and Hebrew culture. Tal was also the first woman in Israel in a position of “Rosh mechina kdam Zvait” – pre army programs for young adults in Israel. Tal studies Business, law and Judaism. Before becoming Rosh Yeshiva she worked six years as a prosecutor in the district attorney office in Tel Aviv.
Ever since I entered the field of Jewish education, I have been struggling to find the right words to explain it. To my friends and family at home, I have entered confusing territory. Education, they understand. But Jewish Education? Israel Education? It’s harder to visualize. So when I arrived at my first iCenter conference last May, and found myself surrounded by people to whom I didn’t have to struggle to explain my intentions, I was profoundly relieved. Suddenly I was a part of something legitimate, and for the first time it wasn’t hard to find the words.
At the most recent conference, we had an opportunity to think about language and the way we talk about our journeys. At a slam poetry workshop with Caroline Rothstein, we heard her story through poetry and narrative, and then had a chance to tell our stories in a similar manner. Caroline instructed us to write a letter to the version of ourselves before our first Israel experience. Here is the letter to myself...
If you could write a letter to the version of yourself before your first Israel experience, what would it say?
Rachel is an iFellow in Cohort 4 of the Masters Concentration in Israel Education.
The period leading up to the elections in Israel (March 17, 2015) will occur between Chanukkah and shortly after Purim. I cannot help thinking about the symbolism in this juxtaposition. The story of Chanukkah together with the celebratory songs composed in Israel so speak to the story of the creation of the State. An "against all odds" drama, where the fewer are victorious over the many, the light conquers the darkness and in poetic justice, the symbol of the State conjures the image of the same Menorah being carried off to Rome following the destruction of the Second Temple. It is with this backdrop that the elections for me are profoundly emotional. The privilege of living in a sovereign Jewish State with the ability to influence its decisions is remarkable.
The Purim story, which will be just behind us as we vote, elicits similar themes of victory against all odds though it is characterized by that which is concealed rather than revealed. Fittingly, among the key behaviors on Purim is the act of dressing up. The Hebrew term for this is intriguing: l'hitchapes (להתחפש, "to dress up"), the reflective form of the verb l'chapes (לחפש, "to search"). Invited to dress up, we are essentially trying to rediscover who we are. We are searching to fully appreciate the factors and forces behind our reality through the probing of the Purim story.
There is clearly an irony in that we will be placing our ballot as opposed to drawing lots, enjoying the gift to proactively decide our destiny as opposed to (or perhaps as well as) responding to predetermined options.
Elections are a captivating opportunity to gain a view as to what is on the minds of Israelis and what are the priorities of the country. As such, they provide unparalleled educational opportunities for engaging with Israel. The elections invite us to reconsider the very essence of who we are, who we want to be and our joint aspirations for addressing the key challenges we face as a people. From the current discussions, and perhaps the events that led to the early dissolution of the present government, the following issues will dominate the coming months.
The political landscape in Israel has become all the more unpredictable. Difficult to predict surprises but surprises there will be. As has been the case in past elections, we may witness younger and new parties gaining a significant number of seats both as an expression of the dissatisfaction of the performance of the present Knesset, or because they will have captured the hearts and minds of the electorate. As such, the traditional larger parties may well continue to garner less seats making the act of forming a coalition (which must be made up of at least 61 seats to form a government in the Knesset of 120 seats) all the more challenging. At present, the Likud with 18 seats has fewer seats than Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party with 19.
Security, both internally within Israel and in terms of the future of the region, will no doubt be among the key factors influencing the elections. The need for the leadership to lead, to initiate, to put ideas on the table, is critical. Diplomatically we have certainly seen better days; this too requires urgent attention. The budget (yet to be passed) and the economy are certainly on the minds of the people. It is finding expression in the ongoing conversation about the price of the Milky (yoghurt), cottage cheese or more importantly one's first home. The many parties alluding to "Home" in their names may want to help deliver on making this place feel like (and enable the acquirement of) a home for all its citizens. The inability to agree on what that looks like recently became one of the reasons for the fall of the present government. Clearly this is a hugely important issue.
For educators, these are momentous occasions for enabling discussions that relate to our aspirations as a people, our understanding of timeless values and commitments that ought to inform the fundamental conversations about what it means to be a sovereign Jewish State. Let the educational as well as the electoral campaign begin!
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter. Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has a rich background in camping, running various camps in England where he grew up and later serving as the Education Director at Ramah Poconos. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom has a strong passion for teaching, feels privileged to live in Jerusalem with his family and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.