WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.
The wheel chair access polling station at a school near my parents home was a mess. A too narrow corridor with crowded wheel chairs and walkers, a very nervous and disorganized lady in charge, but lots of goodwill. There was excitement in the air and lots of people showing up, including a group of 10 residents with severe MS who wheeled themselves over from a neighboring institution. When it was finally my father’s turn to go in I wheeled him in, and joined him behind the screen to help him -physically – choose the right slip of paper. It was overwhelming – 32 tickets, an array of Hebrew letters. I pointed at each one and repeated who and what they represented, and then did it again. he thought for a moment and named his choice. (That’s his private business to share but I’ll say that I was more than happy to help and I was so glad he didn’t choose Bibi which he thought of the day before.) He dropped the envelope into the slot and nodded in approval. As soon as we started wheeling outside a commotion erupted- the elder grand rebbe of the Ehrloy chasidic dynasty was wheeled in – his wheelchair throne covered in plush golden fabrics. An hour later, when asked, my father didn’t remember who he voted for exactly- his short term memory is sometimes erratic these days- but I’m quite sure, standing there with him inside the voting booth ( a rare, intimate, borderline legal but necessary moment) that he processed the information and made a sound and good choice.
How and why we choose what we do is a fascinating thing always, and was very much so this time round. My friend Shai was telling me yesterday how in the US people who are ‘floating votes’ get bad rap for being undecided but here in Israel – so many of us were wrestling with choices until the last minute – really debating the issues we care for vs. the practical thing to do.
Till the very last minute people I know were debating and I too made up my final mind early on Tuesday morning, during a one on one with God. Never mind the details right now, but She made it clear to me that the choice is between fear and trust. She was also delighted about the fact that four parties are running with a woman at the lead, and that more smart and motivated women are entering the arena at these elections.
We spoke in Hebrew and then God started talking in Arabic, and I think She was saying (My Arabic is still quite raw) that more Arabic women should be heard in the arena, if only to balance out the Jewish masculine/macho majority. But cautioned me to be also pragmatic and not lose a vote to a party that will most likely not make it. There were four impressive Israeli Arab women running for seats this time around and on Tuesday morning it looked like at least 3 will make it. 2 did. In obedience to Divine instructions, and in consult with other factors and data, I made my choice with clear direction as to which one of these brave ladies gets my vote. (Spoiler – she wasn’t elected but WILL be in the knesset in two years time, thanks to the rotation agreement of Hadash.)
I voted later in the afternoon at yet another school turned election station, much calmer this time, along with my mother, who explained to me, during our short drive from home, what her deliberation were and who she chose and why:” I asked my doctor who she chose and why – and she said who and explained that he had good people,” she said “and I don’t like Lapid very much but I too like his choice of people, with accomplishments and good sense.” Her choice made perfect sense, much better than the more right wing vote she contemplated, I thought, and she tactfully didn’t ask me much about mine. As it is, she chose a winner..
We shook hands afterwards, in the car, and said Mazal Tov to democracy. Will I be there again in four years? She asked me as we started the car. Will any of us? who knows? We choose things, in or our of ballots, and life happens…
And then what happened happened and the next days and weeks will tell us more. I think it looks good and interesting and a change for real. But for now the end result is not the issue – the process is – the privilege, the exercise of will and decision and choice and change, for good, in the world, each according to their own version. With all the flaws – this is still a humbling and important experience. It’s a privilege to choose and vote.
On Monday night we watched Obama’s inauguration speech on TV, moved by the dignity, his powerful words – some heard for the first time by a president – brought me to tears. Tuesday’s experience of reality making through Hebrew letters that conspire in small notes to make change through our choices became an almost mystical moment, casting a spell, a ripple of change, perhaps improvements. Hopefully more than less. There’s good people up there now. My mother was right.
Choose People, Good People is always good advice. It’s what Moses instructs Joshua, at the end of this week’s epic Torah text, B’shalach. “Choose the people who will fight for us against the tribe of Amelek” (Ex.17:9) . This is happening five minutes after the song of the sea and the big euphoria of the Exodus. Bam. right into war and the choosing of people is the first thing that they have to as a nation to survive- pick leaders to battle the dangers. It’s not at all the same kind of choosing as the one we had this week but inherent in the action is the same primal drive – for security, for trusted leaders, good people who will stand up for real values, and fight fear. Amalek, in many traditions, does not represent another race or nation – Amalek means Fear. And to stand up against fear we need good people, leaders, teachers, friends.
The people chosen this week, as Moses told Joshua, are our people – people for the greater good of this bigger reality, one way or another, I hope and trust – it’s all good choices. There are new leaders, some of them good friends, who will help us with more trust, less fear, less wars, more peace, and change for the better.
As for God. She was pleased when we had tea today and reminded me to always listen to my mother.
Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org