Praying — and voting — for a more caring Israel (it’s not as easy as it looks)

When the next Israeli elections are held, our daughter, who was born in Jerusalem a couple of years after we made Aliyah, will have just turned five years old. It’ll be the fourth time in her short life that she’s seen us vote. 

I’ll be thinking of her, of the future I want to give her, when I cast my ballot in March. And even though I feel sure about what the main things are I want from the next government, I feel far from sure who the right person is to vote for. I’ve felt that way every time I’ve voted here.

Part of that is because here — in contrast to the United States — we don’t vote for people, we vote for parties. No one party on its own ever gets enough seats to form a government, so it’s often the negotiations after the vote that determine who will get to be Prime Minister and run the country.

That said, here are the top three things I would dream of seeing in the next leader. They’re all things that we have not seen from Bibi in his years of rule. And they’re all things that represent basic spiritual values for me, especially about what the Torah teaches us about how we should relate to other humans and be caring towards them:

  1. Peace/שלום. I’m not looking for any promises or even a plan here. I would just like to believe that the person in the Prime Minister’s office in their heart of hearts dreams of making a peace agreement with the Palestinians. We’re far from that being possible now (the Palestinians can’t even decide whether they want Hamas or Fatah to represent them). But I want a PM who will be ready, like Menachem Begin was back in 1977, to leap at the right opportunity to try and make peace. And even to risk their political future by taking big risks, and calling for deep sacrifices from Israelis. Bibi, for all his impressive political skills, has never been this kind of person.
  2. Economic justice/צדק. Israel, thanks to the Blessed Holy One, is still not the winners-and-losers, capitalism-at-any-cost kind of society that I sadly watched my birth country of America become more and more with every year since 1980. Here, we still have a fairly functional universal healthcare system (witness the success of the Covid vaccination project), and you won’t find the kind of widespread homelessness that plagues big American cities like New York and Los Angeles. But, under Bibi, income inequality has steadily gotten worse. It breaks my heart (and the Holy One’s) to see a Jewish nation forget its obligation to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger among us even as we continue to build new gleaming office and luxury housing towers.
  3. The secular-religious balance. This too is a spiritual value. Every human should have the right to believe, and love, as they see fit. But in this country, Jews are forced by law to submit to the rules and will of the Orthodox rabbinate in some of the most intimate details of their lives, including getting married. That said, it’s appropriate (and dear to my heart) that there be a Jewish and specifically Israeli character to the state. In the United States, even the most secular of institutions sets its calendar by the major Christian and secular-national ones, and gives all but essential workers holidays like Christmas and July 4 off. Here, in a state where such a large portion of the population are observant Jews, a proper secular-religious balance should, for example, include having Shabbat and Yom Kippur as elements in shaping the national calendar. But, under Bibi, that balance has been lost — tipping too far in favor of the ultra-Orthodox whose political parties he has desperately needed in his coalition.

I hope that my daughter and my (just over one-year-old) son will grow up to live in an Israel where they will have, compared to today’s young adults, more freedom in their spiritual lives, more economic justice and more peaceful relations with neighboring peoples. In recent elections I’ve looked to Benny Gantz with the hope that he was the person who could represent these core values in action, but it doesn’t look right now like he’s ever going to get a chance to be PM. Maybe his former partner Yair Lapid will. I’m afraid, however, that either Bibi will be reelected again or that another right-wing leader will take his place. But I’m praying that won’t happen — and that I, and Israel as a whole, will make the right choice on March 23.

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who made Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their two "sabra" children. Alan is the founder of HavLi and the HaKen Institute, spiritual care education and research centers based in Jerusalem. A rabbi, Alan received a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.
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