Approximately 80% of Israelis vote in local and national elections.  We care who gets into power, and we care what they want to do once  in power.

But what does “in power” mean?

It means that they get to say how our money is spent.  Those “in power” decide if it is more important to pave the sidewalks or buy new flak jackets.  Well, almost.  Some decisions are made by the national government, such as who will be drafted and who may be exempted; while other decisions, such as whether the roads will be painted or the parks shaded, are made by the municipal or regional council.

And, while putting that little note into the oversized shoebox does give each resident a “say,”  once in power, most elected officials don’t appear to feel accountable to their voters.  Which is a shame. More than a shame.  In fact,  it is usually scandalous.

Decisions made by those “in power” can often be against the law, or at least, not in keeping with the residents’ needs.  Many decisions seem to be made with slight bias towards the interests of those in power and their closer friends.  Unless voters follow closely, campaign promises are broken, joining many sidewalks  and retaining walls.

Following the summer of social protests two years ago, one mayor (Haifa)  stepped up to the plate, and invited local activists to sit in on city council meetings, allowing them to help keep the committees on course.  From this was born the Mishmar Hevrati Mekomi movement.  In a growing number of cities around Israel, residents are learning how to read and understand city budgets; who is responsible for what areas of city maintenance; and how to make their city council follow the rules and do their job.

Two weeks ago, on Erev Yom Yerushalaim, Kibbutz Tammuz in Beit Shemesh hosted the inauguration of the national MIshmar Hevrati Mekomi non-profit organization.   The timing fits well with the prophecy in which HaShem promised to restore leaders and judges that will make Yerushalaim (and our other holy cities) fair and just towns, as Hazon Yishayahu concludes : “V’ashiva shoftayich k’varishona v’yoatzayich k’vat’hila.  Aharei chen, yikare lach ir hatzedek, kirya ne’emana.”

As we are not waiting for that promise or any others to fall out of the sky, it is up to us to do our bit to make them reality.  In this case, it is out of the reach of any one person, but well within the reach of many organized, caring residents working  together – we who want to see or leaders show fiscal responsibility, we who wish to know that resources are allocated fairly, who are not interested in our Holy Land being polluted by Holyland-style bribery   – we can demand transparency.

And when we work together –  for an agenda of transparency and accountability – we can make it our reality.

The Mishmar Hevrati representatives in Beit Shemesh have already begun to work.  On inexpensive letterhead, a formal request was sent to the city of Beit Shemesh for a copy of the proposed budget for this year .  A first draft has been received.  It isn’t everything, but it is a start.  The more residents that the group represents, the more seriously we will be taken.

So, what is the Mishmar Hevrati?  What do they do? And why do they need me, you and everyone else?

I can answer all that in a long article, but it would be so much more effective if we all show up to the introductory Kennes this Friday, 15th Sivan, at Kibbutz Tammuz (Rehov haNassi 40, Beit Shemesh) .  The kennes will be from 9:30 to 11:00, not too long, but long enough for us to all learn that voting is only one part of the democratic process.  Fortunately for all of us who are not “in power,” our influence does not end a the ballot box.