Galilee Diary: Civic Duty

Jews in Israel are given the opportunity to bring economic, social and political issues into the center of their religious consciousness. The moral quality of the army, social and economic disparities and deprivations, the exercise of power moderated by moral sensitivities, attitudes toward minorities, foreign workers, the stranger, tolerance and freedom of conscience – all these are areas that challenge our sense of covenantal responsibility.
-Rabbi David Hartman

My electoral activity has generally been limited to modest contributions, and voting. But a year or so ago I was convinced by the “Pluralism Lobby” to join one of the major parties, on the assumption that if a lot of us liberal Jews did so, we could influence the parties’ platforms or at least their selection of Knesset members. In Israel, there are local municipality elections, and there are national elections. In the latter, one does not vote for candidates for any office, but simply casts one vote for one of the twenty or so parties; the number of seats in the Knesset assigned to each party (out of 120 total) is proportional to the party’s share of the national popular vote. 

Now that national elections are scheduled for Jan. 22, the parties are getting organized. The larger parties hold primaries, in which registered members vote to create a prioritized list of candidates; then if the party gets, say 15 seats, the top 15 on its list will fill the seats. Smaller parties tend to use other methods (e.g., smoke-filled rooms) to create their lists.

So I joined the Labor party, whose primary was held recently. There were 83 candidates for what most polls predict as somewhere around 15-20 likely seats (though there can of course be surprises). For the two weeks before the election I was bombarded with text messages and robot calls, urging me to vote for particular candidates. Since the majority of the candidates were people of whom I had never heard, newcomers to the national political scene, these uninformative slogans were more annoying than helpful; it got so I stopped saying hello when answering my phone, waiting a few seconds to hear if a recording would start to play.

The night before the election I sat down with the booklet of brief biographies of and statements by the candidates and made my slate (you had to vote for between 8 and 12). Of course, I might not even have participated in the process, feeling that my selection was superficial and un-serious (and considering I’m not at all sure if I will vote for Labor in the general election), had it not been for that fact that one of the candidates was Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Israeli Reform Movement.

One can complain about the unholy entanglement of religion and politics in Israel, which has led to the disenfranchisement of liberal Judaism – or one can accept the reality of that entanglement and try to make the best of it. We complain about the nationalistic and anti-modern voices of Orthodox rabbis in the Knesset – so why not counter them with the democratic and humane voices of liberal rabbis there? If we believe that our Judaism is a source of ethical values, then it shouldn’t be separated from politics, but should be involved in the politics of the Jewish state. If we want our understanding of Jewish values to resonate in the corridors of power here, then we have to work hard to gain access to those corridors.

So that’s why I voted in the primary.

Rabbi Kariv ended up 25th in vote count, but was bumped to 28 on the list because of slots reserved for various geographic, ethnic, and gender groups. A pretty long shot, but we’re definitely on the map. And we’ll be back.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah, a daily e-mail on a topic of Jewish interest. Sign up now to add 10 minutes of Jewish learning to your life each day!

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Rabbi Marc Rosenstein

About Rabbi Marc Rosenstein

Marc Rosenstein grew up in Highland Park, IL, at North Shore Congregation Israel. His first visit to Israel was as a high school student in the first exchange of the Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) program in 1962. He was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1975, and then served as assistant rabbi at Community Synagogue, in Port Washington, NY. Rabbi Rosenstein was a teacher and also a principal at the Solomon Schechter Secondary School in Skokie, IL. He also served as the principal at Akiba Hebrew Academy in Lower Merion, PA. In 1990, he made aliyah, moving to Moshav Shorashim, a small community in the central Galilee, founded in the early 1980's by a group of young American immigrants. He is presently the director of the Israeli Rabbinic Program of HUC-JIR, as well as the director of the Makom ba-Galil, a seminar center at Shorashim that engages in programming to foster pluralism and coexistence. Marc is married to Tami (originally from Waukegan, IL), a speech clinician working with handicapped infants and children. They have three children; Josh, Ilana, and Lev.

2 Responses to “Galilee Diary: Civic Duty”

  1. avatar

    I also joined the Labor Party here in Jerusalem, & I also voted for Rabbi Kariv as 1 of the 12 candidates. I also think that us non-Orthodox Jews should participate actively in the Israeli political process, in the same way that the Israeli Progressive Movement (= Reform) are active in social issues & have had important successes in various petitions that they’ve made to Israel’s Supreme Court. We should make our voice heard. This is 1 of the reasons that I started attending the monthly prayers of Women of the Wall.

  2. Larry Kaufman

    The Reform Movement and the Labor Party have played footsie together as long as I can remember, in the chambers of the WZO. I remember, many years ago as we were preparing for a Congress, ARZA received a serious overture to talk with Likud (or was it Herut?) about joining their faction. To those who said, It doesn’t cost anything to talk, the late Fred Richter replied, If we even talk with them, we’ll spend the rest of our history trying to explain the conversation away.

    Not that talking with Labor has historically been more pruductive. (I speak as someone who was brought up not in Reform but in Labor.) Support in the
    WZO does not equate to support in the Knesset, where Labor has consistently, even when they were the dominant party — eich naflu giborim, how are the mighty fallen — they were alsways ready to bring the Orthodox into government.

    Maybe Gilad’s failed effort is a belated recognition that we need to be in the inside to make our voices heard. And maybe a Reform infusion can help restore the Labor Party to something like its former glory.

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