In Plain Language: A cure for election dysfunction

A great drawback of the Israeli system of centralized government is that those making up the Knesset have precious little contact with the country’s rank and file.

Israeli election ballots [File] (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israeli election ballots [File]
So here we are once again, headed to (early) elections in April. Fittingly, they’ll come just as we begin the Hebrew month of Nisan, the month of miracles – an appropriate symbol for a country with perhaps too much democracy, surrounded by countries without any democracy at all.
I like to tell my kids that there are three days each year when we Israelis get to enjoy holidays with no ritual restrictions whatsoever: Lag Ba’omer, Independence Day and Election Day.
But, as often as these events do occur, they are always filled with suspense and surprises, the latest being the dramatic exit of Israel’s most popular politicians – Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked – from the party they successfully led to a brand-new enterprise; and the formation of yet another fledgling party led by Benny Gantz and Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon – I‘d call it the “Generally Speaking” Party – ready to wage war within the political arena.
But will it just be business as usual – promise and promises but not much progress – or will these elections bring change – real change – to a nation and electorate continually disappointed and divided over our leadership?
MY RABBI was fond of saying that whatever major events occur in the world at large can be found in the Torah portion of that week. This past Shabbat, we began reading the epic story of Moses and his dramatic struggle to liberate the Jewish people from Egypt. His primary tasks were to gain the people’s trust, unite them into one cohesive unit and somehow raise their self-esteem, which had been decimated by more than a century of domination and degradation.
We know little about Moses’s early life, from the time he is plucked from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter to the moment – a full 80 years later, by tradition – when he bravely confronted the Egyptian monarch to demand freedom for his people. What we do know is that, at about the age of 20, Moses “comes of age,” and when he encounters an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Jew, Moses summarily kills him, and is then forced to flee.
What moved Moses to act so drastically in a fellow Jew’s defense, an act that effectively transformed him from privileged Egyptian prince to stalwart Jewish savior?
Rabbi Nachman Kahana suggests that because Moses was raised in the palace, he had virtually no contact with the outside world. Pharaoh, knowing of Moses’s Hebrew background, purposely kept him confined to the premises and completely oblivious to the torture the Jewish slaves were experiencing. It was only by a chance encounter, when Moses ventured outside the confines of the palace, that he learned, to his horror, what was happening in the “real world.” This revelation shocked him into a grand awakening that returned him to his roots and energized him into becoming the leader of our nation.
One of the great drawbacks of the Israeli system of centralized government is that the men and women who make up the Knesset have precious little contact with the rank and file of the country. They have no binding allegiance to any city or sector; it is rare for the average person to personally interact with an MK. You can live next door to an MK for years without ever meeting him or her, let alone sharing your views on issues that directly impact you and your family.
So I suggest that anyone who wants to be a truly productive MK leave the confines of the Knesset building on a regular basis to truly experience and relate to the real world of Israel. A few suggestions:
Visit a soup kitchen or food distribution center. Pull your hat down over your face and, incognito, eat what the poorer people eat. Ask them how they’re doing, how they manage to survive, what they need.
Spend a night at a rape crisis center or battered women’s shelter. Learn firsthand about domestic violence and meet the victims whose lives have been shattered.
If you are secular, spend a Shabbat in synagogue. Pray with the congregation, listen to the rabbi’s sermon, and stay after services to mingle with the crowd and hear what they have to say. Maybe visit a yeshiva, as well, and ask someone there to spend a few minutes in study with you. If you are haredi, visit a secular kibbutz and ask the residents about the history of the place and what jobs they do. Visit an IDF base and engage the soldiers in conversation; share their take on army life and their willingness to fight and even die for our country.
Once a month, visit a different city on a Friday and walk up and down the main streets, sampling the falafel and getting a feeling for what makes that place special. Do a “meet and greet” on a busy corner; you don’t have to make any grand proposals, just let the passers-by speak their minds and vent a bit.
Drop into a kindergarten, without any fanfare or special attention, and watch the little kids; hang out at a high school or college cafeteria and just observe. These are the future adults who will someday be in charge – see if they are getting the nurturing and education that will prepare them for the task.
Stand in our shoes every once in a while by doing the everyday things that we civilians do, and feel our frequent angst and aggravation: Drive – yourself – on our highways, especially at rush hour; wait in line at the post office or the bank; try to make an appointment at your health fund; decide on a budget and then go shopping for essentials; attempt to return – for cash, as the law allows but is rarely honored – an item you bought only yesterday; take your car in for the dreaded annual test. Though you may not always have been an MK, you may have forgotten what it’s like to be a regular Israeli citizen just trying to get through the day.
The Passover Haggada sums up all this advice in just two succinct words: “Tze u’l’mad” – “Go out and learn.” If you do, then you will not only enhance your Knesset career, you may actually become a modern-day Moses who will lead us – if not to then in the Promised Land.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;