Gathering in crowds sipping coffee before the start of the work day, I overheard several people discussing the municipal elections. I must admit that I eavesdropped quite vigorously. Though I hate politics, I love elections and voting and feeling as if I have influence on the state of affairs in my beloved Land. However, as I continued to eavesdrop on various conversations, it became clear that quite a number of my colleagues had not bothered to vote. Each had an excellent excuse: a) I had to go shopping; b) I had to pick up my kid from his/her (fill in the blank); c) I was too tired by the time I came home from work (that one I actually heard from quite a few people); and d) what’s the difference? Ruvik was going to win anyway.
And indeed, Beer Sheva’s incumbent Ruvik Danilovitch won with an overwhelming 92% of the votes.
This says something about our amazing mayor, but not a whole lot for the citizens of our fair town, where only about 40% of voters turned out to vote.
I couldn’t let anyone know I was eavesdropping, not at that late date, so instead I gave the coffee drinkers a good talking-to in my head.
“If you didn’t bother voting, don’t bother complaining when your garbage isn’t picked up on time. Don’t whine when the kindergartens don’t open. If you phone 106 (the municipal hotline) and nobody answers, don’t come running to me!”
I spent some of the time I didn’t spend eavesdropping on scanning the local newspapers online. (When I say newspapers, I mean talkbacks. I’m a secret talkback reader, but that’s another story.) The one talkback that really caught my eye claimed that ‘voting was a human right’.
Well, actually, it isn’t. Voting is a privilege, not a right. We are privileged to be living in a democracy where we can vote. Not every country -certainly not in our neighborhood – can make that claim. So, when I hear that people don’t make time, or forget, or can’t be bothered to vote, I get annoyed.
Evidently, while there is no time to vote, there is tons of time to complain, and, apparently, tons of things to complain about. I hear a lot of complaining every day, and not just from my kids. I hear complaints about the place in which I work (“Why doesn’t the air-conditioning ever work!” [ever??]), about the schools in which my kids learn (“why doesn’t the school give more maths/art/music/Chinese cooking lessons instead of wasting time on math/art/music/Jewish history?”), about the stores in which I shop (“Why don’t they put the good stuff out on the shelves instead of hiding it in the back so I have to ask for it?”), about the synagogue in which I pray (“Why doesn’t the Gabai give more people a kavod (honor) instead of the same people every time?”), about the community in which I live (“Why don’t you organize an event? I’m bored”).
I volunteer for the Southern Branch of American and Canadians in Israel (AACI) helping new and veteran immigrants acclimate to their lives in Israel. Over the years that I have been involved with the organization, I personally have been the address for many complaints, some of which are couched as suggestions.
“Why don’t you arrange a violin concerto in Beer Sheva?”
“Why don’t you organize a demonstration for my 10-year-old who’s learning feng shui?”
“Why don’t you have a fundraiser to save street cats? I know it’s dear to all our hearts.”
“Why don’t you find me a job?”
Every once in a while instead of a why don’t question, I get a why do.
“Why do you charge so much money for events?”
“Why do you start programs at 8? I can only come at 8:30.”
“Why do you say they can get me a job, but really they can’t?”
If I had a shekel for every time I heard “why don’t you….”, I’d be able to buy whatever election I wanted.
Like a good Jew, I answer their ‘why don’t you…’question with a question of my own.
“Why don’t you????” I ask right back. I admit is not very congenial.
Most people don’t like my stock answer. I haven’t won many friends this way, or even influenced many.
Every once in a while, though, a person looks at me and I can see that my answer has registered something deep in her/his consciousness. S/He might not become active immediately, but it does stop some of the complaints, some of the time.
So here’s the deal. If you want something in your workplace/shul/school/community to change, DO something about it. If you don’t like the quality of the tomatoes in your local store, talk – quietly and politely – to the manager, not the cashier. Let him/her know where better tomatoes can be procured.
Volunteer to be on the synagogue committee so that you decide who gets an aliyah in shul.
Be active in the PTA and figure out how you can indeed squeeze in a lesson or two in structural engineering or farming into your second-grade kid’s class.
If you’re bored, organize a lecture/concert/cooking demonstration of your own. Then you can start when you want, and charge as much as you want.
And when the time comes, go vote—for the synagogue committee, for the PTA, for the workers’ committee, and especially in National and Municipal elections. Only then will you have the right to complain when the garbage isn’t picked up.
I have better conversations to eavesdrop on.