I don’t know what American political reporters write about for two years
covering just two parties. They must be bored stiff.
In Israel, my first
election season was a whirlwind of colors, parties, random assignments of
letters, political infighting and rumors flying in every direction, angry rabbis
promising blessings to those who voted the correct way, last-minute press
conferences breaking propaganda rules, coalition possibilities going up in
smoke, and Meretz activists making rounds of the bars and giving out shots of
terrible green-tinted Arak.
All of those elements came to a culmination
on Tuesday, when I made my way to my neighborhood elementary school, filled with
brightly lit aquariums and student drawings taped to the walls, and stood behind
a piece of turquoise cardboard.
“It’s my first time voting in Israel!” I
gushed to the three election monitors, whose eyes were glazed over with
spreadsheets and long lists of names of voters.
On my way into the school
I didn’t stop to talk to any of the cheerful activists outside: I had labored
for hours over my decision, poring over party platforms and debating for days
with friends, and I didn’t want anyone to change my mind at the last
Jerusalem had a feeling of a city on holiday, and I practically
skipped toward my designated voting location.
“It’s weird, I don’t
recognize anyone on the street,” Marik Shtern, an activist with Yerushalmim,
said as he sat at a bustling local café, as dozens of people took advantage of
the sunshine and the day off of work. “All the really old people are out, the
ones you don’t see normally because they stay home. And you see lots of people
coming back to Jerusalem to vote [who used to live here but haven’t yet changed
their residence], and they’re all secular. It feels like the way Jerusalem used
to be,” he said.
So after three months of campaigns and as the city
basked in a holiday atmosphere, here was the moment of truth: just me and a
table full of strange letters, separated from the three election monitors by the
turquoise piece of cardboard.
I had laughed at the whole process of
choosing letters for parties as needlessly confusing, especially after receiving
urgent text messages Tuesday morning from the Yesh Atid Party, claiming that
someone had switched Yesh Atid’s “peh-heh” slips with the “heh-peh” slips of a
little-known party called Haim B’Kavod.
Many people I know disparaged
Israel’s low-tech voting system – stuffing a note in a sealed envelope, then
pushing it through a slot in a cardboard box. But as a recent immigrant, there’s
something comforting knowing that I’m taking part in a ritual that probably
hasn’t changed since the founding of the state. I missed out on being a pioneer,
but at least I can still vote like one. Or, as my brother so helpfully pointed
out after seeing a photo, it looks like I’m voting for the high school student
With that, I double and triple checked my voting slip, then put
it in the envelope.
“Want me to take your picture?” asked one of the
monitors, as I posed in front of the voting box.
answered, another step toward my aliya journey complete.
My smile reached
ear to ear as I left the elementary school after voting. There’s something about
participating in democracy that really puts a spring in your step.
matter how old-fashioned our voting system is, we can take comfort in one thing:
No way is it as bad as Florida.