The first time I voted in an Israeli election was during my time in the IDF. I had lived in Israel for just over a year, and the political landscape was still a bit of a mystery to me. The army set aside a room on base as a place for all of the soldiers to vote. While I waited in line with my friends, most of whom were around 18-19 years old, I looked at the list of candidates and asked them, “Who should I vote for?”
I might as well have said, “Free vote here!”
Within moments of asking the question, my young friends began engaging each other in heated political debates and discussions, and I literally found myself caught in the middle. They each had an opinion as to whom I should vote for and why, citing facts and statistics to support their points. It impressed me that not only did my young friends know these facts, but that they were so passionate about politics in their home country of Israel.
This year I once again saw this same passion expressed by the citizens of Israel. It’s a passion that I always felt was mostly lacking in America, especially among American youth. Election Day in Israel is treated like a national holiday. Schools and businesses are closed. This year almost three-quarters of those eligible to vote turned out at the polls. Of all the voter images I saw from that day, my favorite was a bride voting in her wedding dress. This is how seriously Israelis take their elections.
When I still lived in America, during a time when I wasn’t certain if I’d ever fulfill my dream of aliyah (immigration to Israel), my heart already faced Israel. Although I was a resident of the United States, the primary topic I focused on when voting in U.S. elections wasn’t the U.S. economy or the wars that the country was fighting. Even then my focus was centered on which American candidate would be most supportive of policies toward Israel.
With the Israeli political system so dissimilar to that of the U.S. electoral college that I grew up with, I still find myself a little overwhelmed by the choices facing me in each Israeli election. This is partially because just about every Israeli citizen treats his or her vote as if it will be the deciding factor among the millions of votes cast. One of my friends said that her husband even promised to do all of the dishes for an entire year if she voted for his candidate. (She declined his offer, and voted for the candidate that she believed in.)
Not only are there many candidates to choose from, but numerous parties to choose from as well. Just about everyone has a candidate and party that most closely represents what they want Israel to be in the immediate future.
I have chosen to exercise my right of keeping my vote a secret. Some of my friends find this odd in a country where everyone is so open about many things, including the candidate they voted for. What I will reveal is that I voted more toward the right.
I want peace as much as anyone. First we need to see Israel’s so-called partners in peace making changes of their own; for example, not standing by terrorist organizations such as Hamas, before peace can be achieved. The “land for peace” model has been proven beyond ineffective. Israel withdrew from Gaza less than a decade ago and, as late as this past year, we have gotten nothing but pain, grief and rocket fire in return for this deal.
Still, I took my vote very seriously. Up until the moment I cast my vote, I found myself wavering between various candidates, trying to decide which one best represented not just my safety and well-being, but the (Jewish) values I want my safety and well-being guarded with. Only time will tell if I made the right decision. However, what is important is that, like most of the country, I made the decision feeling as if my single vote was the most important one of all.
DANIEL STIEGLITZ (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Providence native, made aliyah in 2007. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Bar Ilan University; works as a trip coordinator at Sachlav/Israelonthehouse, a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip organizer; does freelance content writing; and lives in Jerusalem. His short story “End” was just published in FictionMagazines.com’s magazine, New Realm.