A thirst for unity throughout the campaign trail

Israelis have not given up hope of seeing a new leader with vision to pull them out of their state of cynicism.

Yesh Atid party list event 370 (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Yesh Atid party list event 370
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
These past two months have been nothing short of remarkable. Starting with the day I was officially announced as a candidate for Knesset with the Yesh Atid party, I have been traveling the country. Whether in the north, the south, the center, in Judea, Samaria, or the Jerusalem region, I have met Israelis from all walks of life. The one constant theme in every location was the desire for things to change. Everyone seems to know that our country is not functioning as it should and they are searching for that candidate or party which will set things back on the right track.
The more jarring part of this journey has been seeing how little hope most people have regarding the possibility that things will actually change for the better. Most voters are jaded.  Consistently failed leadership has driven them to lose hope for improvement and for attaining a better life in Israel. Those who have not given up are drawn to new leadership. They want to see fresh faces with new ideas. They want a leader with vision who can pull them out of their state of cynicism.      
This certainly explains the remarkable reception I have received as a candidate of the Yesh Atid party. Every single person on the Yesh Atid list is new to national politics, but come with a proven track record of working to make things better yet. All are entering this arena with a passion for continuing to make things better and this ignites crowds and provides them with the hope they so desperately need.
But there is something much deeper about the enthusiasm with which we are met in shopping malls, schools, synagogues, and private homes.  There is great excitement about the makeup of the party's list for Knesset. Yes, there are voters who do actually take the time to study the list behind the face of the party and, in Yesh Atid, they see a cause for hope.
The voters I have met are smart enough to recognize that despite the fact that sectarian parties invite those from outside their sector to join them, they still remain just that – not incorporating new ideas but just getting more people to follow their own. True unity, however, means people from all backgrounds making the difficult decision to put aside their sectarian interests, to make compromises, and to work together with others who are doing the same. That is the only way we can move things forward to achieve what is best for the nation at large. The people we meet see a Yesh Atid list comprised of candidates with outstanding personal and professional histories coming from many different backgrounds and ideologies, who have taken that courageous plunge. This fuels their optimism that change is on the horizon.
Sitting around the table at meetings of the Yesh Atid list for Knesset is always a truly remarkable experience.  At the head of the table sits Yair Lapid and his number two, Rabbi Shai Piron. This is a revolution for the State of Israel.  a secular icon chose to break down barriers and asked a religious, Zionist rabbi to serve by his side, taking part in all major decisions. I look around the table and see two pillars of Zionism and symbols of the fight for Israel's security – Yaakov Perry, former head of the "Shabak," the General Security Service and served during the first intifada, and Mickey Levi, former police chief of the Jerusalem region who served through the second intifada. Yaakov is secular Ashkenazi and Mickey is traditional Sephardi. Similarly, I see the traditional, Sephardi Mayor of Dimona, Meir Cohen, alongside the secular Ashkenazi Mayor of Herzilya, Yael German.
Continuing around the table I see two proud immigrants from the former Soviet Union and two remarkable immigrants from Ethiopia – symbols of the ingathering of the exiles. These are proud Israelis who fought hard to start new lives in a new land and who have emerged as leaders in their communities. Then there is Karin Alharar, wheelchair bound at the age of 19, she became an attorney and championed for the rights of the disabled. I see a religious woman, Dr. Aliza Lavie sitting next to a secular woman, Dr. Ruth Calderon. Both have a passion for Torah study and spirituality and have committed themselves to tackling the third rail of Israeli politics – issues of religion and state. The list goes on and on. But I also see myself, an ultra-Orthodox American immigrant, who is fully embraced as part of the team and who has been invited to play a significant role in developing and formulating policy – especially in matters of religion.  As Yair Lapid said at the celebration where he unveiled the list, "Take a look at them. This is how the State of Israel should look. We agree about 80 percent of the issues and work together and make compromises on the other 20 percent."
The lasting lesson from the campaign trail for me is not that a party with such remarkable unity exists, but that the Israeli public thirsts for this change from our ways of old.  Our tradition teaches that redemption will only come when we unify as a people. I have learned that people throughout our country intuitively understand that our only chance for national success will come when we heed that call. This thirst for unity and working together is the message which I hope to carry with me and use as my guide throughout my public and personal life.       The author is an educator, author, and community activist who rose to national prominence for combating religious extremism and fostering unity in his hometown of Bet Shemesh.  He is number 17 on the Yesh Atid list for Knesset.