Yesterday I had the privilege of casting my vote for Israel’s 20th Knesset. And, as if choosing a party wasn’t hard enough, the nearly-four-hour drive to get to Australia’s only balloting station certainly made the mission that much harder!
And yes, knowing we were two of a handful of people voting in Australia – and two of only a few thousand Israelis allowed to vote outside of Israel – gave my wife and myself the extra push needed to take the long drive and fulfill our democratic duty.
Generally speaking, Israel doesn’t allow postal votes – meaning you must be in the country, near your registered home address, on the election day in order to have a say. There are however some 6,000 people working overseas who are an exception to this law; Israel’s diplomatic corps and shlichim (emissaries) of the national Jewish institutions are permitted to vote abroad.
That meant my wife and I were awarded with an opportunity that might never happen again: We could participate in Israel’s elections, from the other side of the world.
Being a Jewish Agency shaliach (educational emissary) in Sydney, Australia, has its perks. The famous Opera House dominating the city’s skyline; the very relaxed “no worries” culture; and of course the beaches, which are great. But being so far from home can also be challenging, especially when it’s a 30-hour door-to-door trip to visit your family.
Similarly, voting down under wasn’t an easy task. Israel’s embassy in Canberra was the only place for Israelis to vote in Australia, but it’s not the most convenient location for those working outside the embassy. Driving from Sydney was a long, 4-hour task (we then had to drive back…), but it seems like nothing compared to those who made the 7.5-hour drive from Melbourne!
Add to this the fact that this year’s overseas election day, legally required to take place 12 days before the date of the elections, fell on the festival of Purim and you’ll understand how inconvenient it was for many shlichim to vote. It’s not just that it was Purim – it’s the fact that most of the non-diplomatic shlichim were sent for the purpose of providing quality Jewish and Israeli education. Essentially, some Jewish Agency shlichim had to make a choice between voting and fulfilling their duty to the schools and communities they work for.
But to me voting isn’t a choice; it’s not something you can just opt out of because it’s inconvenient. For some people living overseas, it was virtually impossible, requiring a 2 or 3 hour flight in every direction. Thankfully, for us it was “only” a four hour drive, so we could balance it with our other commitments on Purim.
We thought the drive was worth it. When we arrived home, after some 9 hours of travelling, we were exhausted but pleased. We knew we had done what needed to be done, and that we had made our voice count in the debate about the future of Israel.
In Israel, the country provides everyone with a day off work and balloting stations close to home. There are no excuses of inconvenience for those who choose to not cast their vote. If you can vote in the elections, please do so. If you can help make Israel a better country for all its citizens don’t neglect to do so. If you can help shape what the only Jewish state in the world looks like, join us and do so.
Some people travelled for hours across Russia, Australia and the US to vote. On March 17, when you have the day off because it’s election day, make the effort and go to the balloting station next to you.