Welcome to Election Time in Tzfat

Elections for city mayor and town council are coming up and, once again, our town of 33,000 has four mayoral candidates and umpteen candidates for City Council. The “hamulot” here in Tzfat — big family groups — are quite strong and many local residents make their choices based on “that’s how our family votes.” Other locals vote based on the directions of their rabbi.

I won’t be making my decision either way. My 17-year-old can vote in this election so I’m now part of a family of six voters but I doubt that any of us will be voting in coordination with the other. So no hamula here. And I’ve had enough experience with watching some of the town’s “religious leaders” get involved in the local political scene to know that I don’t want to necessarily follow their lead either.

I have, however, over the course of my last 28 years of Tzfat residency, (which includes four previous elections) learned a few things about local Safed elections:

  • If you’re an English speaker the politicos automatically lump you in with the “Anglos” and, it’s assumed, you’re part of an Anglo block.  Never mind that the Anglo community in Tzfat is as diverse as the city — as far as I can see all of the candidates have some measure of Anglo support. But that’s neither here nor there…if you come from an English-speaking country, the candidates and their machines assume that you’re part of a block of voters and relate to you in that way.
  • If you’re looking for a female candidate, you have a bit of a search ahead of you. There are several dozen candidates running for city council, and four candidates for Tzfat mayor, and I’ve seen only one woman on anyone’s list. Her own. The idea that women should have some kind of representation in city government hasn’t quite yet filtered down to this town.
  • If you’re a candidate, don’t talk about the issues. In a general way, sure. But don’t worry about specifics. No one is listening. Every single candidate and party talks about the “future” of the city, the importance of education and opportunities for youth and a strong Tzfat economy. To listen to them, you’d think that they were all running on the same list. But the majority of these candidates will get elected because of the kind of kippa that they wear and little else.
  • Candidates should get rabbinical support if they expect to be elected. There are very few candidates running who don’t represent some kind of religious philosophy.
  • Concern about the environment drops to zero for the pre-election months. In this town, the party that puts up the most posters and hands out the most fliers, wins — or at least that’s what they think. Even the candidates who promote ecological awareness (including our present mayor who actually got recycling moving in Tzfat) are keeping the printing houses running 24/7, creating tons of printed materials which will all end up straight in the landfill. Depressing. (I know of one woman who has promised her vote to the candidate who creates the least amount of trash.)
  • It’s advisable for any candidate in Tzfat to join the Likud. Tzfat is a Likud town. A Likud candidacy is not the automatic stamp of approval that it once was in this city, but it doesn’t hurt. Conversely, it’s not advisable to say the word “Labor” around here. I’ve noticed that even Labor-affiliated candidates don’t display the word “Labor” on their campaign materials.
  • Campaign on Internet? Not in this town. Even our present mayor, who is pretty Internet-savvy, has a limited Internet presence for his campaign, via an interactive Facebook page. The chief rival limits his Facebook page to his own proclamations with few “likes” and no comments or responses. Safed’s mayoral campaign will take place, as it has for the last 60something years, on the street.


About the Author
Laurie Rappeport has been living in Safed for 28 years. She worked in the Tzfat Tourist Information Center for 13 years and continues to be active in tourism to Tzfat and northern Israel. Laurie works as a freelance writer and teaches about Israel and Jewish subjects online.