For the last several years, I’ve had two major obsessions that I admit probably take up too much of my time, NBA basketball and Israeli politics. Just as I feel the need to read every box score and listen to every basketball analyst’s reaction to the games, I also feel the need to read every poll, every tweet, listen to every political debate on the radio and yes, I even sometimes watch the Knesset channel (one of the many perks of being an Israeli politics nerd who lives in Israel).
Israeli politics have always fascinated me but nothing gets me more excited than the Superbowl of Israeli politics, Israeli election season (which as of late happens about just as often as the Superbowl). As we quickly approach the fifth Israeli election in four years, I find myself in Israeli politics heaven. Everywhere I go, everybody is talking politics.
This week, while waiting (for four hours) at a walk-in clinic in Haifa, a Moroccan grandfather spoke to me about his frustration with Haredi Israelis vis-a-vis the army and taxes. On Simchat Torah, one of the guys who goes to my shul shared his political views with me quite clearly when he said “Rak Ben Gvir!” (Only Itamar Ben Gvir). While walking my dog Kobe outside, I see every city bus with a Shas advertisement, Likud and Yesh Atid banners on every second house and Avoda (Labor party) banners (whose leader Meirav Michaeli is the transportation minister) pasted next to the train station. Interestingly enough, a couple weeks ago, Meirav Michaeli came to Haifa to inaugurate a new bus line that runs on Shabbat (Haifa happens to have public transportation on Shabbat, but that’s a story for another time) and she was met with religious protesters who made kiddush there in order to send a statement.
Israel is a fascinating and complex place that is too often misunderstood around the world and amongst Diaspora Jewry as well. Even with all of the challenges that contemporary Jews in Israel and the Diaspora face today (and there is no shortage of them), my Zaida who is a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor has always emphasized that we’re living in the greatest time in Jewish history and the main reason for that is the existence of Israel. We, the Jewish people once again have a voice, we control our own destiny and we’ve reunited from across the globe in our ancient homeland…something that we can not take for granted.
This is why I believe as an Israel educator, that Israeli elections are a phenomenal tool to help Diaspora Jewry connect to Israel. At a time when talk surrounding Israel is so polarized and binary, let’s add more nuance and complexity to the conversation. Israeli elections are the ultimate insider access to understanding Israeli society and the diversity within it, religiously, ideologically and ethnically. This is easily seen through the plethora of political parties that represent every sector and viewpoint of Israeli society from parties representing Haredi Ashkenazi Jews to Haredi Sephardi Jews, from Russian Israelis to Arab Israelis and everything in between.
Through elections, we can see what the biggest questions are that are facing the future of the one Jewish country on the planet. How will Israel look in the future? How will Israel deal with its security issues? How will Israel look when it comes to religion and state issues? How will Israel deal with its non-Jewish minorities? What does it mean to have a Jewish state? What should Israel’s relationship be with Diaspora Jewry? These questions and countless more help us understand Israel in a deep, complex and meaningful way.
Five elections in four years is of course absurd and a waste of money. You’d be hard-pressed to find an Israeli from any background who’s excited about another election (other than me of course). Nevertheless, elections are entertaining and engaging and this is another reason to use them as a way to connect with Israel.
Ultimately, we’re speaking here about literacy. If we want our young people and (if we’re honest) us as parents and educators to have a relationship with Israel, we need to be insiders. Otherwise, there is just too big of a cultural gap, a knowledge gap, and really, an understanding gap.
At Unpacked for Educators (a division of OpenDor Media), we work to make Israel education accessible, nuanced and meaningful for students around the world and as explained above, the upcoming elections in Israel are an excellent tool to do so.
This year, we’ve put together an entire package of content for those who want to teach, learn or engage with the upcoming Israeli election. We’ve taken campaign ads from every major political party and added English subtitles, we’ve provided a template to facilitate mock elections and a variety of other tools about the Knesset and Israeli politics to bring the learning to life.
Let’s use Israeli elections to dig deep and ask difficult questions by acknowledging Israel’s successes alongside its various challenges. Ultimately, young people should be challenged to recognize that the story of Israel is a story that each and every Jewish person can be proud to embrace and cherish.
Now…who should I vote for?