In these days leading up to Israel’s 4th parliamentary election in 2 years, I wish I could be on the ground in my Homeland, knocking on doors in a very active Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign. Rather than campaign for any one party, I would be encouraging the Israeli voter to turn out and vote on an issue that is critical to both the health of the modern Jewish Democracy and the health of the modern Jewish People. Simply put, the issue is whether Religious Freedom for All Jews is a fundamental value that is shared between the Jewish State and the Jewish People?
I know what the answer is from the point of view of the Jewish People who care passionately about the State of Israel. But what of the Israeli voter? Could this be the parliamentary election where the Israeli voter sees that the issues of Religion and State matter for many reasons? Could this actually be the election where enough Israeli voters voice their support for changing the Status Quo? Always the optimist, I want to believe that if enough Israeli voters see what I see, the winds of political change may actually blow on March 23.
As Pesach approaches, I recall warmly the many Haggim my family spent in our Jerusalem apartment in the German Colony. One of the special features of our home was the beautiful courtyard and garden, lovingly cared for by my dear friend Barbara. In honor of Rachel becoming a Bat Mitzvah in 2003, we planted a young olive tree in the corner of our garden, where its branches reached for the limited sun that would shine in our private space. Underneath the olive tree was a lavender bush that grew out of control, relishing the conditions and providing so much comfort over the years. I am forever grateful to Barbara for teaching me the fundamentals of gardening as well as for keeping our garden so beautiful for 19 years. I am also forever grateful to Barbara for teaching me so much about the modern Jewish Democratic State of Israel and why she made Aliyah from my mother’s birthplace, The Bronx, so many years ago.
I’ve been here in Beachwood for a year now, zooming around the world while sitting out the Pandemic crazy close to my four grandchildren. From my office window I look north, from the sunroom I look east and the front of the house gets southern exposure. Unlike my Jerusalem home which faced north and was very dark, both my Cleveland and New York City homes are flooded with sunlight, as well as with very clear windows on the world. So it is that I am in close contact with the trees surrounding my home, especially the river birch and now a beautiful bifurcated pine tree on the banks of the little stream that flows into our little lake in The Village.
This past winter began with a very destructive snow storm which caused a lot of damage to the trees in our area. The forsythia that provide so much delight in the early spring have grown very wild around the pine trees that line the banks of the stream in the backyard. So wild that what is beautiful in the spring, killed in the winter, as those pine trees, strangled by the vines, fell under the weight of the heavy snow, taking the forsythia branches with them. In the stark, clear, cold winter, the consequences of not clearing out the dead wood were very obvious to those who could see.
As the snow melted, I was able to see the network of forsythia vines that had overtaken the very healthy bifurcated stately pine tree. Needing to get outside, and inspired by all that Barbara had taught me, I went about cleaning up some of the destruction from the winter. With my hands, a rake and my pruning shears, I made sure that the stately pine would not fall victim to the aggressive forsythia. I was very proud of my work, even if I made a huge mess of all the dead wood and vines in the backyard. As I live in a gated community, I knew that the lawn crew and the arborist would be by to finish the job.
Yesterday, while waiting to hear if my crazy idea of reproducing the Sh’ma Israel video in Hebrew in time for the election was possible, I was delighted to see the arborist and his crew in the neighborhood. Let’s just say the arborist was not pleased to see what I had done. He was so upset, in fact, that with pictures as evidence, he contacted the property manager, essentially turning me in. When I received the call from the property manager, whose name, coincidentally is also Barbara, I knew I was in trouble. After a good yelling match, partly fueled by my sense that maybe I went too far, Barbara and I found our common ground, which is love for the physical space which is our home. Now that I clearly understand the ground rules, I won’t take on the role of an arborist. After all, I am an activist, not an arborist. Nor do I need to as it was clear from the work that the crew did yesterday, there was a lot of dead wood that needed to be removed.
And so it is in civil societies, which so often look to the trees as metaphors to describe how it is that human beings can live together in harmony for the common good. Evolving societies, like trees, grow and change over time. Judaism has survived for thousands of years because of our tradition’s unique ability to evolve within the times and cultures we have lived. The development of a branch of Judaism known as “Israeli Judaism” is but the latest shoot to grow out of the fertile soil that is the experience of the Jewish People, now living sovereign in our own land.
Which brings me back to the reason for writing on Thursday, March 18, 2021/5 Nissan 5781. In 5 days the Israeli voter has a chance to get rid of the dead wood of the religious Status Quo. The current situation is choking the natural growth of an Israeli Judaism that serves the spiritual needs of all Jews that reside in the State of Israel. Under the current situation, there is a gross imbalance between democratic values that protect spiritual civil rights, expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and the one-sided strict Orthodox approach to Jewish law in the public sphere. Failure to protect these civil rights threatens the essential character of the modern Jewish Democratic State. By voting for a party that supports Religious Freedom, that agrees not to sit with Shas or United Torah Judaism in a governing coalition, the Israeli voter can get rid of the very dead wood of the Status Quo. So much has changed since David Ben-Gurion made that deal in 1948. The Israeli Jew and the Jewish People as a whole need no longer be bound by the terms of that deal. It is the dead wood from times past. Change is in your hands, Israeli voter. By voting for Religious Freedom, you can be both activist and arborist!
Sh’ma Israel, l’kolot Israel, Sh’ma l’kolot Israel, l’chol Am Israel……….in a democracy more than one voice should decide.