An exhilarating and enlightening election experience
The young male Kadima rep and the young female Labor rep both turned out to be Shas voters.
I had the honor of serving as a chairman of one of the more than 9,000 ballot boxes used during the elections for the 18th Knesset. When I arrived at the voting location at 6:30 a.m. I had no idea that I would leave at 12:15 a.m., almost 18 hours later, after such a mind-altering experience.
The first thing to strike me was the different worlds merging on my staff. My deputy was a young secular woman representing the Labor Party. The second member of my committee was a young, religious woman representing National Union. There were two "voting observers," both haredi men - one from United Torah Judaism and one from Shas. During the course of the day, an additional observer joined from Kadima. The camaraderie and unity which developed over the day among the group was quite remarkable.
As a group we laughed, debated some points, discussed our backgrounds and cultures and really bonded. In what other setting would a haredi man be found sitting and talking amicably with a secular woman? Where else would a member of Shas be found challenging a young, Kadima activist to solve a difficult riddle? In what other setting do people from all walks of Israeli life sit and discuss the coming of the Messiah, the Iranian nuclear threat, and anti-Zionist extremists? While for the rest of the country it was a day of fragmentation as people voted their separate ways, in our voting room there was a unique moment of unity.
THE SECOND incredible impression was witnessing certain voting experiences. A new immigrant from America in her 90s took close to 20 minutes trying to decipher the various Hebrew acronyms on the voting slips, refusing legal help from my staff since she "needed to do this by myself." She had tears in her eyes as she put her envelope in the ballot box.
There were French immigrants who, upon slipping their envelopes into the ballot box proudly proclaimed "a votÃ©," the French declaration that "I have done my civic duty." There was an older Israeli woman who, upon putting her ballot into the box mumbled, "The Messiah should come today." There was a Russian couple standing outside the room for quite some time trying to make up their minds - clearly basking in the fact that they had the right to make this decision and influence the future of their country.
There was a young man who moved to Jerusalem recently but was still registered in Beit Shemesh who, upon realizing that he had left his identification documents at home, panicked and was willing to spend hours on the road driving wherever he had to go to find some way to vote. There was the recent Anglo olah pleading with us to find a way for her to vote despite her not holding the legal documents to allow her to do so. Overall, there was an incredible sense of anticipation, tension and excitement, as people were not simply voting but clearly sensing that they were helping set the direction of their nation.
THE FINAL EXPERIENCE came at the end of the day, when it was time to count the votes. Some of the staff felt so comfortable with the rest of the group that they decided to reveal for whom they voted. The young male Kadima representative? He voted for Shas. The young female Labor representative? Shas. This taught me in the most glaring and tangible way that externals cannot define the essence of a person; you simply never know what a person truly feels on the inside.
It also revealed to me that there is a searching and yearning for something spiritual and meaningful among the younger generation which manifested itself in these two people, one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi, identifying with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and a religious party.
We do not yet know the results of the elections or in which direction our country will turn. But for me, Election Day yielded tremendous fruits as I came to the conclusion that our country has a bright future with passionate and caring citizens who have more in common than we are often led to believe. For me, and I hope for you, this serves as an Election Day victory.
The writer is an author, community activist and lecturer who teaches at Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim and Machon Maayan in Beit Shemesh.