Jerusalem, my hometown: The Great Debate

Right up from the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem on King George street, there’s this pretty great Kosher pizza joint that serves these great big stuffed pretzels and calzones. I went in and had to have a salad too…and a Coke. Okay, I was hungry!

Three Anglo women, two from the States and one from Canada were sitting there eating and talking together. One was from Philadelphia and when I told her I was from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, she knew exactly where that was. The other American lady was from Beverly Hills originally(don’t tell me that rich American Jews don’t make aliyah; they do) and the Canadian gal was from Montreal. Yes, they were Israelis living in Jerusalem and had made aliyah just like me. So, I joined the conversation…in English, of course.

“So, you’re all going to the debates tonight next door?” I inquired. The Great Synagogue was hosting their customary pre-election English language debate where all the great political parties send in some of their greater politicians to do what politicians do before elections…you know, debate. “Me too,” I said between bites of that pretzel which tasted really great with honey mustard sauce. “Have they said who the political parties are sending by?” I had read the ad in The Jerusalem Post about a week ago but it was vague.

When you’re inside the main sanctuary, it becomes plain to see why it’s called The Great Synagogue of Jerusalem with its majestic stained glass and its very high ceilings with the women’s gallery upstairs. I was there once before for a Shabbat service and the place was packed with men from different streams of Judaism all praying together. I remember watching one of the rabbis walking around and passing out candy to every good boy who had come with his father to pray.


The outside, by design, is actually a great homage to Solomon’s Temple itself. You can see that the architects were trying their best to say something great here too.

File:Jerusalem Great Synagogue.jpg

Look, I’m not trying to overplay the word “great.” Some things actually are great. Like, I had a great night tonight listening to the parties make their various cases on why we should elect them to the 19th Knesset. Now, I’m even more undecided…which is not so great.

In the US, you’d never go to a church or synagogue to see a political debate. It’s just not done because religious institutions don’t want to lose their federal tax-exempt status. Yes, it’s pretty great not having to pay taxes which is why, I suppose, you don’t see American congregations endorsing anyone or anything very political between the four walls of their places of worship. But, in Israel?

Here, politics is religion! And, depending upon who you talk to, some would tell you that’s one thing that makes Israel…well, Israel. But, I don’t know, does this help to make our country great?

It certainly helps to make it Jewish! And, that’s the really great thing about the great debate tonight. Everyone up there was a Jew! You’d never see that in the US or anywhere else!

And maybe, that’s the one thing that most Israeli Jews seem to actually agree upon: we want to make and execute public policies nationally that increase the likelihood of Jewish survival. To do that, every party tonight made their case that they would be the best choice to preserve Israel as a Jewish state. Well, I for one think that’s pretty great. I mean, no matter how I end up making my decision, I’ll be voting for a party who believes in keeping Israel Jewish.

And, it isn’t news for me to report that this was actually the real great debate going on tonight: How should we Israeli Jews vote to elect the 19th Knesset in order to best preserve our great country as a Jewish state? How will those 120 men and women who become MKs accomplish this great task while still keeping Israel a fair and just nation so that everyone who lives here, including those who are not Jews have greater chances to live greater lives than they do right now?

“There’s plenty going on in Israel that’s not so great,” say many folks from greatly diverse backgrounds. There’s even a Wiki site dedicated to criticizing the Israeli government and no, I’m not going to give a hyperlink to it! Even President Obama thinks “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”

Well, isn’t that great…

Sure, he’s a pretty left wing guy and all that and who could miss the obvious that Bibi and he don’t seem to be thawing out or getting ready for a love fest anytime soon but he’s right this time; Israel needs to get a clue to first discover what those best interests are and then go after them and then finally, capture and secure them.

It ought be at the heart of every foreign and domestic public policy development initiative undertaken by every committee established by the 19th Knesset. I call it the “gel-go-get-glue” method.

First, whatever those great things are that are in our own best interest, they have to gel into a consensus (or at least a simple majority). Here’s where we ought to take enough time to decide what it is that we want to have/do and what it is that we can have/do. Then, with some kind of a democratic mandate, go after it. Going after it is all about doing the work that leads to that day where can reach out and touch it. Then, all that’s necessary then is to grab it and pull it close, clutch it tight to our collective breast until we can get it home safely and glue it down. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. What’s that it, you say? It’s called governance.

And, as we govern and become greater at doing all of that difficult and interesting public policy development work, do you think we could just quit, like a bad smoking habit, trying to explain ourselves to the rest of the world? They don’t live here, even if some of our critics come from our own tribe who live abroad. How can we expect them or anyone else to really understand just how great it is to live here in spite of the challenges? We can’t. So, let’s stop trying. Please. And please, let’s stop wishing that people and nations who hate Jews or Israel will somehow change if we give in to their demands that go against Israel’s best interests. Now, without a debate, wouldn’t that be really great?





About the Author
David Lasoff is an American Jew from Southern California. He made aliyah in May 2012 and is now the director of the department of Applied English Linguistics for the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem. He teaches academic writing and supervises the school's English language learning programs.