Day of Atonement

Citizens cast their ballots at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset elections, on April 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Citizens cast their ballots at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset elections, on April 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

I left my polling station in Israel today with bittersweet feelings.

Sweet, because I cannot help but acknowledge the extraordinary privilege of casting a ballot for a sovereign Jewish government in the Land of Israel, even if it is my third time in a year.

Bitter, because I am frustrated by the current political circumstances; by the mudslinging, the distrust, the enmity, the intransigence; and by the seemingly intractable stalemate in which we find ourselves.

And I am wondering whom to blame.

From the polling station, I go to the synagogue next door to pray. And somewhere, in my speaking to God during mincha, I find my answer.

I have no one to blame but myself.

I want to point my finger at our politicians across the spectrum. But then I remember that we live (thankfully) in a democracy; that they are no more and no less than our representatives; that we, in turn, are their enablers; and that, as a French philosopher apparently once said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

Apparently, this is what we deserve.

And we must collectively shoulder that responsibility.

On the annual Day of Atonement, the High Priest would step before God to atone for the full load of sins of the Jewish people. But what was his first move? To offer a personal confession. To introspect; to look inward, not outward; to probe his own heart, even though he could easily find so many others to point a finger at; and to commit to a different future.

And that is where I find myself today. For today is Election Day in Israel. A day of joy, at the very notion of such a day; a day of irony and endless satire, because of its increasing frequency; but also, I think, a day of reckoning and atonement, for how we have gotten here, and how we get out of here.

And so I start with myself.

Our Father in Heaven, please forgive me for my stubbornness, for my cynicism, and for my intolerance, especially when directed at my fellow citizens. Give me the strength to be embracing, accepting, supportive, and always cooperative. Help me protect my tongue from nastiness, no matter how much I might think it is deserved. Inspire me to always see, in the spirit of R. Elimelech of Lizhensk, “the virtues of others and not their faults.”

Help me and my fellow citizens deserve the kind of government we want; and give us the strength and courage to demand the government we think we deserve.

For, as Israelis know all too well by now, today is only the beginning.

This time, let’s give ourselves a better ending.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Judah Goldberg teaches in Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim and practices emergency medicine in Jerusalem and Pembroke Pines, Florida.
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