My grandmother, Margalit, has a perfect voting record.
It’s not that she’s picked the winner in every election – her party of choice didn’t lead the country until 1977 – but Tuesday, at the age of 87, she voted in her 20th Israeli election, out of 20.
Even in her retirement in northeast Tel Aviv, not everyone can boast that accomplishment.
She was hesitant at first. Since my grandfather, Shraga, passed away at the age of 93 last summer, the process of doing anything alone for the first time has been tough.
Easier to stay indoors, drink coffee, and pass the days.
But with a little nudge, she made her way to the polling station, picked the slip of the party she decided she would support weeks ago (whether or not she actually made it to the polls), sealed it in the envelope, and put it in the blue ballot box.
My grandparents had a long history of Likud voting.
They were followers of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who inspired my grandfather to come to Israel with a dream of riding a horse and holding a rifle. He fought in the Irgun under Tzipi Livni’s father, Eitan, and had enough clout in the Likud’s predecessor, Herut, to get Begin to be his first son’s godfather.
They were married shortly after the War of Independence and voted in the first elections when they were finally held eight months after the state’s establishment. For years, Begin’s way was their way.
That changed in the 2013 elections, when at the last minute, they both decided to vote for newcomer Yair Lapid.
He seemed up to the task, had a vision for the future, and his representatives provided rides to the polls.
But Savta, as I call her, felt that Lapid was a disappointment, and couldn’t stomach voting for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in no small part because she disapproved of his wife.
“They ended their career with me; I wasn’t able to vote for them,” she said. This time, she went with Kahlon, who has made a case for representing the old Likud, the Likud of Begin.
“Kahlon came right into the place that was missing. He’s a man of the people, he’s nice, he makes a good impression and if, when he becomes famous, he acts like Mrs. Netanyahu, then I’ll change him, too,” Savta said. “They ruined it for themselves. I’m not a politician; I just speak common sense.”
In the lobby of her retirement home, called “Until 120” after the common birthday blessing that people should live that long, a group of residents gather daily to discuss, argue about, complain and solve the problems of the world. Savta jokingly calls them “the parliament.”
Like all routine political arguments, theirs are perhaps inconsequential to the running of the country on most days. On election day, they take force. These are people who have lived Israel’s history, fought in its wars, grappled with its economic challenges, and seen its political tides turn. On election day, they greet each other by asking how they voted. They are the essence of democracy, and I, having just voted in my second Israeli election, am in awe of them.
Among them, few have voted in all Israel’s elections – some were too young in the first one – but many adjusted their vote through the years as the country has changed.
“Listen, life changes and I change and the goals and direction of the state change, so sticking to one channel doesn’t make sense,” says Dan Maller, 82, a life-long Tel Aviv resident.
“A child should want one thing, a young man something else. So too with citizens.”
The parties also change.
Long gone is the socialist Mapai, since replaced with a more moderate Labor, and now the even more centrist Zionist Union. Herut has become the Likud, elements of which Maller thinks have veered too far to the right.
“I’m looking for a party that’s going along a path I believe in,” he said without revealing his choice. “Someone disappointed me last time, so I’m going for someone else! And if they disappoint me then next time I’ll go somewhere else again. That’s the whole beauty of it.”
Miriam Kunda, 80, cast her vote for the Zionist Union’s Isaac “Buji” Herzog after a long hiatus from voting Labor.
“For many years I voted for Labor, then I stopped, I voted for Kadima and Shinui and others and in the last elections I voted for Lapid and this time I came back,” she said. “I think that [Buji] can give a push and change the atmosphere, the situation, both diplomatic and security and also the personal situation of Israel’s citizens” “What moves me this time is that my husband, who came to Israel after the war, who is a Holocaust survivor, who grew up on Jabotinsky, who was an officer in the IDF and for many years voted for the Likud, and this time is the first that he’s voting for the Zionist Union, and if he’s doing it, then there’s been a big change.”
Amira Huberman, at a perky 74 (“and a half”) years old, notes that many people in the building vote the same way.
Last year Lapid was all the rage. This year, there is a large defection to Buji. For Huberman, politics have gotten uglier over the years.
“There’s a deterioration.I think that every election, the politics and the publicity have become more aggressive, and they’ve gone below the belt,” she said.
This year, she’s hoping for a change. But if she doesn’t get it? “So what? What, will I go somewhere else? I have no other place!”