Israeli Elections Day: The Festival of Freedom

Michael Rainsbury

Whether right, left or centre, the one thing all Israelis agree on is that they are happy today is a national holiday. As a religious person, it makes a pleasant change to have a day off that doesn’t include biblically-ordained restrictions. As a British person, it seems bizarre to miss a whole day of work for an action that takes a few minutes. But I have come to realise that the reason why we don’t work is because today is truly a national holiday.

For most of the campaign, I have imagined that holiday to be somewhat of an extension of Purim. The extravagant warnings of dire consequences of voting for the other side that we constantly hear. The numerous amount of humourous political video clips. Netanyahu’s narrative that if we don’t vote for him, the Persians will finally succeed in destroying the Jews, who only he can save. I have thoroughly enjoyed the last few months of Israeli politics, but I wish it had only remained in the realm of the ‘Purim Spiel’.
However as the day approached and the time came to finally decide who I was going to vote for, I realised that Election Day can really be compared to Pesach, the time of our freedom. On Purim, the Jews were bystanders as Mordechai and Esther contrived to save the Jewish people, but on Pesach every family and person made their own contribution to the Exodus by sacrificing the Korban Pesach and painting blood on the door. A small act, and indeed nothing on the scale of Moshe and Aharon’s actions – let alone God’s – but an act nonetheless. The moment when the people defied their Egyptian taskmasters and followed this mitzvah was when they became a free people, placing their destiny in their own hands.
My individual act of voting may seem a small act, making relatively little impact when cast alone. But as part of a nation, we as a collective are able to choose our own destiny. Today is a modern day Chag Hacherut, festival of freedom. It is unlike other Jewish festivals, both modern and ancient, in one stark way: You have to live in Israel. It is possible to celebrate great historical events and miracles anywhere in the world, but to create the history for future generations, you can only be in this land.
And it was for this purpose that I made Aliyah. When I vote in an Israeli election, I am able to play a part in shaping the future for the world’s only Jewish state, and in fact the Jewish people entire. Rather than speculating and analysing from afar, I now have to get off the fence, choose a direction and be prepared to face the consequences. In football terms, it’s the difference between being a commentator and a manager. Being a manager is much harder, and forces you to take risks – but that’s how success is achieved.
It was only after this realisation that I decided how I would vote. One of my options was to vote for one of the two main parties because Israel would benefit from two-party dominance, and this would assuage the concerns I had in voting that party in. Another option was to vote tactically, based on who I would prefer to be Prime Minister, how the coalition negotiations would pan out and what I think other voters would end up doing on the day. But as much as I believe in the two-party system, and as much as I am fascinated by the coalition permutations to Carling Opta proportions, those shouldn’t be reasons why I should vote for a certain party. With one vote, I can’t second guess the entire population, and I can’t single-handedly change the political system in one day.
Rather, I will vote for the party that I believe has the best vision for what Israel should look like tomorrow, with the desire to work tirelessly towards that goal. After all, that’s what I came to the country to do. And as I prepare to place my card in the ballot box, I will for the first time understand the line of the Hatikvah, “To be a free people in our land”. Chag Sameach!
Michael Rainsbury is a former Mazkir of BAUK and the current head of the British Desk of Bnei Akiva Olami. This article was originally posted on his personal blog
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