It’s Monday, the day before the election, and this is the final post in my effort to persuade undecided voters to look at this election through different lenses. I have been encouraging voters to look at the state of Religious Freedom in the Jewish State as a key issue in this election. While this TOI blog is obviously targeted to the English-speaking voter, I am reaching out to voters in the other Israeli community I know well, the City of Beit Shean and Emek HaMayanot, the Valley of Springs. I was part of the group of Cleveland Federation leaders that chose the community as our Partnership Region in 1995, I served as People to People Vice Chair for 3 years and then as Chair during the difficult years of 2000-2004. Many of my insights about Israeli life outside of southern Jerusalem are a result of my many years of involvement in the relationship between Cleveland, Beit Shean and the Valley of Springs.
I have sent the following letter to a dear friend in Beit Shean, hoping he will translate it and send it on to our circles in the northeastern part of the country. By publishing this letter here, I broaden this heartfelt plea to voters everywhere throughout the Homeland. Rather than voting against Bibi, vote for the Jewish People and that which binds us, a modern vibrant form of Judaism.
Dear Friends in Beit Shean and Emek HaMayanot,
I write to you on the eve of Israel’s 4th national election in 2 years in the spirit of partnership, friendship and Zionism. I know you have a very difficult decision to make tomorrow. I have read that many voters haven’t decided how to vote and that for many voters, the only issue is whether Bibi Netanyahu should continue to be Israel’s Prime Minister. If this describes you, before you go to vote tomorrow, I invite you to look at the current situation from a different point of view.
From our many years of partnership, we know that the Jewish People have a unique bond, no matter where they live. What links us is our Judaism and over the years of visits and projects, we have learned from each other how different forms of Jewish expression have made us a stronger people. We in Cleveland have learned so many rich Jewish customs and practice from around the world from our friends in the City and Region and I know many of you have seen American Jewish life in all its vibrancy. And I know that opportunities to express Jewish identity have been broadened in Israel as a result of seeing what is possible when Religious Freedom is allowed to flourish. I think of the Mechina that was built in the Region as a great example of the flourishing of Judaism in Israel. Since I first got involved in Partnership Together in 1995, I have seen with my own eyes the growth of a new form of Jewish expression that has been identified as Israeli Judaism.
If Bibi Netanyahu forms a coalition after this next election, he will do so with partners that have no regard for the sacred force, the glue that binds us, our Judaism. The Status Quo arrangement and coalition politics that give power to the ultra-Orthodox parties have created a situation where Israeli Judaism has to fight for every advancement in the civil sphere. Also, the vast majority of World Judaism has been delegitimized, degraded and disrespected by the current official rabbinic leadership. This does not build Jewish Unity. Rather, it weakens the spiritual bridge that is supposed to connect the Jewish People, no matter where they live.
So, what I am asking you is this: Instead of voting for or against Bibi Netanyahu, I ask you to think about this election in terms of voting for or against the Jewish People. In other words, I ask you to consider a party that actively seeks to balance the core values of democracy with the core values of Judaism that give Israel its basic character as a Jewish State. The current way is creating trouble on the ground in Israel and trouble in the relationship between the American Jewish community and the State of Israel.
You, the Israeli voter, have the power to make a major change in this election. You can think about which party will lead in a way that values the spiritual civil rights guaranteed to you under Israel’s Declaration of Independence. You can support a party that understands that Judaism has always been a tradition that has multiple voices, as the Talmud shows us quite clearly. You can support a party that understands for Israel to be a healthy modern Jewish democracy, the government and society must find a way to harmonize democracy and Judaism. Replacing ultra-Orthodox Judaism with your Israeli Judaism as the official State religion will do just that. Voting for parties that understand that Religious Freedom for All Jews is a core value of the Jewish Homeland will be a vote for the Jewish People.
It is always better to vote for something than against someone. I wish you strength and wisdom as you cast your vote tomorrow. I pray you will vote for a political future that unites us. In closing, while this video is sung in English, the important chorus is in our shared language, Hebrew. Some of you may see yourselves, singing the chorus, Sh’ma Israel!
Hag Sameach and wishing you all good health,
Fran Gordon (Immerman)