Nothing stirs my deepest American roots more than voting. And, for a dual national like myself, those roots stir aplenty when I cast my ballot in Israel.
The act of voting is something I never take for granted. I am not one to take off on extended trips far from my polling place or lolly-gag on the beach in lieu of making a choice. It is an act of responsibility. It is also an act of hope.
My life in Israel is longer now than the time I spent living in America. I don’t really remember when that became a fact, but there you have it. It crept up on me. All my associations with voting come from the American in me. Civic duty. Democracy. One man. One vote. If you’re old enough to fight, you’re old enough to vote. Now I’m giving away my age.
I tear up when entering passport control at JFK. A little unusual, but there is something visceral in seeing the American flag in the wide corridors of the airport that gets me each time. And I used to hear the passport officials say to me “Welcome Home” when they let me pass. Now, I ask them to say it – which gets some looks, but, hey, it is home, too.
Voting in my polling place back then meant walking into my high school auditorium and seeing it converted for the day into democracy in action. The volunteers who processed the voters always greeted me by name and remembered me the next election day, too. What was I studying? What were my plans? It was folksy. It was familiar. I loved it.
Those memories come along with me when going to vote in my current neighborhood. Instead of my own school serving as polling place, I go vote at my children’s elementary school, also converted for the day into a bastion of democracy.
Instead of a southern Maryland suburb of Washington, D. C., I vote in another capital city: Jerusalem. And not just any old neighborhood, either. I live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. To exercise one’s electoral privilege in direct view of the original City of David and the location of the First and Second Temples is to require just a moment of pause.
Loaded does not quite describe the feeling. The weight of thousands of eyes of ancestors feel like they are bearing down on me as I make my decision. To vote as a free Jew in Jerusalem in the State of Israel would have been an unimaginable fantasy to my own grandparents who were disenfranchised by their own government in a country they and their predecessors had lived in for hundreds of years.
Entering my polling place, I can’t help but remember that the building itself served as the home to the poor of the Old City until 1948. Built with the largess of one of the most powerful Jews in history, Rothschild, the Batei Machse was converted to a public elementary school for religious kids when the Jewish Quarter reverted to Israeli hands in the defensive war of 1967.
Polling place Number 506 is where I am assigned. It was certainly one of my children’s classrooms, though now the memory is fuzzy as to which one. The private booth replete with the Israeli system of slips of paper with abbreviations for each of the (32!) parties running are all arranged and ready to be selected. For most voters it is not a last minute decision that needs pondering. But the confusion of all those abbreviations may need sorting out, and a handy poster listing all the abbreviations and the parties they represent is close by.
The poster is next to the window. When you walk to the Kotel or drive down the road next to the inside of the south-facing wall of the Old City, you are passing under the room where I voted this morning. The view includes Silwan, the Mount of Olives and King David’s home on the banks of the Shiloach.
I try not to do too much of a number on myself when making my voting choice. Jewish responsibility sent to me across the millenia mixes all too easily for me with Jewish guilt. Will I be satisfied with my own choice?
And then to the actual voting box. Another election already behind me. The results will be announced fairly early in a country that has one time zone. The real results only come in the coming weeks when the tension of coalition politics play out. Israeli coalition politics makes the counting of the Electoral College votes look like child’s play.
One thing is for sure: there is no such thing as a wasted vote. The act itself is the message.
And what, you may be curious, does this have to do with art? Freedom makes art possible.