Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

I’ll be voting for a Jewish state

Like so many of my friends here, I came on aliyah because I wanted to live in a Jewish state. Now that I am a citizen, I want to vote for the party that strives most vigorously to enhance the Jewish character of the State. I am struggling to find one that does.

In a democracy, a Jewish state must have a Jewish majority. How fortunate I am to have been born into a generation where the State of Israel exists. Had I been born a generation earlier, I might have had a dilemma. Would I have joined those chalutzim who were a minority in the Land, dreaming of becoming a majority in order to build a Jewish state? I hope that I would have. Until 1948, there had not been, since Roman times, a state with a Jewish majority. It was a dream pursued and achieved without me. I am able to live in a state where the majority of the population is Jewish. On that basis, I hope that Jewish culture and values can be expressed by and through the state, so that the state itself can be called “Jewish.”

“Jewish” must mean something beyond genes or chosen identity – in the language of the Declaration of Independence, our “spiritual, religious and political identity.” It encompasses a cultural and values system.

On an individual level, Jewish identity is manifest through one’s values. It may be expressed through one’s religious beliefs and practices – but there are many self-defined secular Jews who exemplify Jewish values. These values (midot) include honesty, integrity, compassion, humility, generosity and forgiveness. Being Jewish might impel one towards various struggles for social justice. Historically, this has been the case.

On a communal level, such values should be the ground-rules and the hallmarks of Jewish society. It is difficult for me to describe the Israel in which I live as a “Jewish state.” It certainly does not live up to the values I identify with Jewishness. The Declaration of Independence defines the core values as freedom, justice and peace. It is a vision far from realized.

Some things about the State of Israel are very Jewish. Our resilience, our inventiveness, our argumentativeness and our inexplicable levels of happiness seem to be Jewish traits dominant in Israel. There are some visible symbols of the Jewish culture we seek to reflect in our national emblems and flag and in many public and private spaces. One of the things I value most about a Jewish state is that the rhythm of the week, the months and the year is determined by the Jewish calendar. I love the fact that here, Shabbat is the day off and that all the Jewish holidays are celebrated in the public sphere. That too, it seems to me, is a prerequisite for a Jewish state but is still far from the fulfilment of the vision.

Although the Declaration of Independence put freedom first, in my lexicon, “Jewish” stands first and foremost for justice. “Justice, justice you shall pursue” says the Book of Deuteronomy – justice in the legal sphere and justice in the social sphere; justice according to the law and justice beyond the letter of the law. A Jewish state should have a vigorous legal system governed by the principles of justice. The law should be revered. Those who break the law should be considered as if they have broken their trust with the people and with the Almighty. So many of our political leaders seem to have forgotten this basic Jewish value.

Another Jewish principle is that compassion moderates justice: imitatio dei – as G-d is compassionate and forgiving towards us, we must behave in that manner towards others. A Jewish state would offer refuge and comfort to the oppressed of the world. In a Jewish state, those with special needs, whether they be financial or physical or psychological, would be cared for and treated with dignity. If the state were “Jewish”, it would understand that tzedakah – taking care of the weak in society – is an obligation.

Judaism and the Jewish people are supposed to be a “light unto the nations.” We are supposed to show the world that the way of Torah and Jewish living is pleasantness (darchei noam). Before every action we take, we are supposed to ask if it will bring us honour or bring us into disrepute: is it for kiddush Hashem or chillul Hashem?

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook reminded us that we lost the Temple and the privilege of living in our Land because of baseless hatred (sinat chiman). He urged us to pursue baseless love (ahavat chinam). The value of ahavat chinam is premised on the principle of respect for diversity. Jewishness has never been monolithic. Our culture loves diversity of thought. It values original and creative ideas. Our tradition is to preserve both sides of arguments about matters spiritual and practical. We might choose one way as the preferred way of doing things but we honour the argument that lost. An “argument for the sake of Heaven” does not lead to friction or undermine the cohesion of society. It is respectful, even loving.

We are supposed to be agents for peace, on a personal, communal and global level. A Jewish state exists as a fulfilment of the vision of the prophets. Eventually, the squares of Jerusalem will be filled with children playing and old people sitting and enjoying the sunshine (Zechariah) and all the nations of the earth will come to pray in a peaceful Jerusalem (Isaiah and Micah). We pray for peace every day and what we pray for, we are supposed to work towards. Our vision of peace is not just about a settlement of border disputes. It is about helping the world transform itself to a values-driven global community.

Without realizing it fully at the time, I came to Israel for redemption, on a personal and national level. In 1985, at a conference marking the Rav Kook’s 50th yartzheit, Rav Yehuda Amital said, “The yearning for redemption is rooted not in the [Jewish] people’s terrible suffering; rather the desire to do good for humanity is the essence of its soul.”

That is the basis of my Zionism and my understanding of a “Jewish” state.

I came to Israel naively, to participate in the Jewish state. I have realized that I have to be part of the effort to create a Jewish state from a state full of Jews.

So for whom should I vote?

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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