New MKs get 'first day of school' tour [pg. 5]

The Knesset had the look and feel of both the first and last day of school on Thursday as 38 new MKs got their first taste of the building. While the official swearing-in ceremony is not until the 17th, the new MKs were given a tour of the building, briefings on procedures and legal reading material to take home. With a new Knesset wing about to be inaugurated, most of the Knesset offices in the old wing were in the process of being cleaned or painted. Boxes and trash cans littered the halls. In the new wing, offices already stood empty with clean desks, computers and chairs. The only thing missing was the MKs, who had not yet been assigned offices. Maintenance workers roamed the halls with blueprints rolled up in their hands as they checked lights and room assignments. MKs who didn't know their way around struggled to find the exit; veterans who were on their way out of parliament already knew the route. "Naturally, it's emotional to be here," said the former deputy mayor of Upper Nazareth, Lia Shemtov, who is 11th on the Israel Beiteinu list. She is among some nine new MKs in the party who got their bearings on Thursday. At age 29, Israel Beiteinu's Alex Miller is the youngest Knesset member. He has just finished college, so his tour of the Knesset marked his first day at work. He had also celebrated his birthday two days earlier, so there were a lot of new things unfolding for him, but at least the building was familiar, he said. He had been there often in the last two years as a student to argue for reforms in higher education. But it was different to be there as a lawmaker, he said. A tour of the building was not Miller's only pre-swearing-in activity. Already, he said, he was meeting with party members and activists to hear how he could best represent them. Otniel Schneller of Kadima also already knew his way around. As a former lobbyist for Judea and Samaria, he said, he had spent a lot of time in the building and the basic procedures of the Knesset were well known to him. What was unexpected and imposing, however, was the briefing on the sheer amount of work involved in passing new laws, said Schneller. As someone with a long list in mind of changes to make, he said, he suddenly felt the weight of all that work. "It will be an interesting time, but a difficult one," Schneller said. Former Deputy Police Commissioner Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who at 55 is entering a new career as an Israel Beiteinu MK, said he felt as though he were starting over. "I felt like a student beginning first grade or university," he said. Just like a student would, he jotted down notes in a notebook as people spoke. For Zeev Elkin of Kadima it was both his 35th birthday and the start of his new career. He had been an adviser for the Jewish Agency's educational branch for Former Soviet Union countries. Elkin said he could never have imagined when he came to Israel from the Ukraine at age 19 that one day he would be a member of its parliament. Already the critic, he said it would have been better if the MKs had received the written material ahead of this first visit so they could have asked better questions. Israel Beiteinu MK Estherina Tartman came to the orientation day even though she was a lawmaker for the last two months of the 16th Knesset. "I still felt the weight of responsibility," she said. Looking relaxed as he sat in the cafeteria, Uzi Landau, a 22-year Knesset veteran who is not returning to office as a Likud MK, didn't need help getting around the building. He had come to pack and say goodbye.