For the first time since I moved to Israel more than 21 years ago, I will not be voting. Israel does not have absentee ballots (except for soldiers and government workers). This is, I believe, a wise decision overall. With all due respect to Israelis who live all over the world – if you leave Israel, if you choose to make your home in some distant land, the immediate future of Israel should not and cannot be in your hands.
I have no doubt you love Israel, but so long as it is our sons who are sent to the battle lines, our lives that are to be considered when we walk the streets, board the buses, take the trains…who runs this country must be chosen by us. Come home…not to vote, but to live. If not, forgive us for deciding that this choice is ours alone to make.
For the first time, I am experiencing the flip side of this decision. I do live in Israel; my sons and daughters have served and will serve in the very near future. And yet, like some of my friends who find themselves traveling on business, because the dates of my trip were immovable, I will watch from afar as Israel votes.
In effect, I have been disenfranchised. I cannot cast my vote for how Israel will be managed in the short-term. I accepted that when I realized the dates would coincide with my trip to India. I accept it now.
As I hear polls that speak of a Herzog-Livni victory, I am reminded that the polls often lean to the left, are often wrong. They predicted Shimon Peres would be crowned Prime Minister and I spent a sleepless night watching as he quickly took the lead, and then in the early morning hours, lost it to Benjamin Netanyahu. I can only hope the same will happen this time.
So, today, though four of my children will be voting, I will not. What I will do, instead, is visit an old and largely abandoned Jewish synagogue in India and go to a Jewish cemetery that is in danger of being sold and developed, despite promises to the contrary. Already, the Chabad House in Bangalore and the Jewish communities around India are gearing up for a battle to save the cemetery and honor the remnants of a community that is dwindling.
As Israel votes, I will go to a synagogue in India and I will ask God to guide the Jewish people through this latest crossroad. I will pray that wisdom reigns rather than politics. Most of all, I will hope that the results match the will of the people – and that means the people have to go out and vote. I cannot think of a more critical election. The Israel that I know must go vote. It is a few minutes of your life…but years and more for Israel.
I will hope that all over Israel, people realize that the leadership we have today is not perfect, but it is infinitely better than what is being offered from the other parties. In a desperate move, Tzippi Livni has announced she will not rotate with Yitzhak Herzog for the position of Prime Minister – this is yet another attempt to lull the right and grab some votes from the vast body of those who can’t stomach the woman’s politics or voice.
Obama has had his say – he has spent vast resources to influence and if the Israel-America relationship is damaged, it will be a result of Obama’s actions, and not Netanyahu. That America is not enraged by Obama’s actions, that American Jewry are not screaming in anger, is an outrage.
Tomorrow, I will stand in India and send my heart and my thoughts and my prayers to Israel. I will walk the cemetery rows, where generations of Jews are buried, but are not home. Israel is a thriving Jewish country. The contrast for a Jew in India, even one here only temporarily is startling. A decade ago, there were about 5,000 Jews here, I was told. The number is down to 3,500 because already 1.500 have moved to Israel.
Today, I took a boat ride around the canals and backwaters of Cochin and met a man from France. Last week, I met a man from England. Both non-Jews visiting India; both don’t like what the Jews have become…what Israel is. What Israel is, for the first time in 100 generations (as Bibi pointed out to the United States Congress recently), is a people that will not be put in a ghetto, not be subjected to another Holocaust. We are, as Menachem Begin wrote decades ago, the reborn, renewed, and largely unknown phenomena of the fighting Jew.
It feels as if this is what the vote on Tuesday is about – the very essence of the country as a Jewish state. In a country of 1.2 billion people, India has the largest Muslim population in the world. We are unsure of ourselves here in a way that we never are in Israel. It isn’t only about language, the currency, and the food – it is the essence of life here – so distant from what we know.
Israel under Herzog will, I am afraid, be more like India for a Jew. Not in the religious sense but in our ability to be strong and proud. I look at Herzog and I see a weak man of limited ingenuity and even more limited integrity. Rather than stand proud of the amazing speech Netanyahu made before the Congress, Herzog chose politics. That is a significant thing.
When you travel out of Israel, you are constantly reminded of the tie that binds all Jews. It is clear, when you walk into the home of a Jew you have never met – and are welcomed as if you have come home. This most basic connection is critical to our survival and this is what Herzog ignores when in front of the world, he criticizes and attempts to undermine Israel.
When a politician puts himself and his party before Israel, no good can come of it. This and more, Herzog, Livni and the sadly misnamed Zionist party has done.
Tomorrow from Cochin, I will visit the graves of Jews who never made it home…and pray that in Israel, the Jews will do what is best for the home we do have…