David Breakstone
David Breakstone
Reflections on Israel and the Jewish world

The morning after

Reflections on despondency and resolve triggered by recollections of my first time

I remember my first time. It was back in 1977 and though I was already 24, it was a completely novel occasion. And, to be honest, while I didn’t have the experience then that I have now, performance of the act itself – heightened by an unparalleled sense of excitement, entitlement, and exhilaration – was far more satisfying than any of the times I’ve done it since. Yesterday included. Especially yesterday, when doing the deed yet again had become not only routine – executed more out of a sense of obligation than expectation – but also deadened by the anticipation of abysmal disappointment.

I divulge these feelings knowing that I’m not alone in finding myself on the verge of despondency, and I thought that sharing how I am feeling the morning after might perhaps be cathartic, not only for me, but for our nation as a whole. Truth be told, I was emboldened to share all when Rabbi Alpert’s revelation of his first time was brought to my attention.

His was back on January 25, 1949:

“At 5:35 AM we woke up… and after we drank our morning coffee we dressed in our Sabbath attire in honor of this great and holy day, because ‘This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be happy on it.’ After 2000 or more years of exile, you could say that from the six days of Creation until this day, we have not merited seeing a day like this, on which we are holding elections in a Jewish state. Shehechiyanu! ‘Blessed is the One that kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day!’ So we went to the voting station near Chabashim Street with our identity cards in hand. With great and mighty joy we walked the entire way there like I was in a Simchat Torah procession holding a Torah scroll, clasping as I was  the identity card of our new Jewish State in my hand. My happiness and joy knew no bounds!

The assistant at the voting station brought out the ballot box, and the chairman called out to me and said… that since I was the oldest person present, I would be the first to vote. With a thrill of awe and holiness, I handed my identity card over to the chairman, and he read out my name from my card and from the registry of voters… Then he handed me an envelope and I went into the other room, where there were ballots from all the parties. And with a shaking hand, moved with holiness, I took one ballot marked “B,” for the United Religious Front, and I placed the ballot inside the envelope I had received… The holiest moment of my life had arrived. The moment that neither my father nor my grandfather had the privilege to experience in their lifetimes. Only me, in my time, in my lifetime, did I merit to experience such a holy and pure moment as this…”

I share this as the final tally of votes is still underway, and probably several weeks before knowing which government – if any – the results will spawn. So it is not the outcome of this fourth election in two years which motivates me to write, but an intense jealousy of Rabbi Alpert. I know nothing of the man, but I envy the innocence of expectation and purity of eagerness that he felt the first time he voted more than 70 years ago, and that I felt a generation later as a relatively new immigrant, which I can’t imagine I will ever feel again.

Responsible for that, of course, is the litany of presidents, prime ministers, ministers and public officials investigated, indicted, and imprisoned for breach of public trust, the inventory of broken promises that they and so many others have piled up, and the machinations of self-interest that have dominated our political life since the esteemed rabbi experienced his moment of ecstasy with the birth of the State.

But I nevertheless find in his recollection – following the sense of dejection it generated on a day of joyless election – the inspiration for renewed resolve. Reminded as I have been of my first time, I am strengthened in my determination to keep struggling to make of this country all that it set out to be. Anything less is to deprive my grandchildren – one of whom was born only ten days ago, and another due during the intermediate days of Pesach – of any hope of experiencing their first time the way I did. We owe it to them to give them that chance.

To that end, I add to Rabbi Alpert’s invocation of liturgical verses, yet another: “Rock and Redeemer of Israel, bestow Your light and truth upon its leaders, ministers, and advisors, and grace them with Your good counsel.” But I know full well, that God helps only those who help themselves. Might we hope, then – as naïve as that may be – that those we have just elected will be moved in fulfilling their responsibilities by recalling their first time – hoping as well that it held all the promise for them that it did for me.

About the Author
Dr. David Breakstone recently completed a term as deputy chair of the executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel. He previously served as deputy chair of the World Zionist Organization and conceptual architect and founding director of the Herzl Museum and Educational Center in Jerusalem.