Election relief and West Bank angst


Since Israelis vote for party and not for candidates directly, the voting system is remarkably low-tech. Chaim and I collected some of the ballots from the ground this morning — they are just little pieces of paper , as seen above, with the name of the party and  maybe a little blurb about it. The one for Meretz (above, right), for instance, simply reads, “The left of Israel”. Note that we found one for the Shas party that is just in Hebrew, and above it is the ballot that also has Arabic on it.

When you go to the polls, you pick the ballot of the party you wish to vote for, and place it in an envelope. That’s it! At the end of the night, the poll workers count these little pieces of paper by hand.

How much better these elections went than expected! Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu party lost seats and the left picked up seats. Second place winner was left-of-center party Yesh Atid with 19 seats, 8 of them women.

Chaim and I were very excited to see that someone we know, Ruth Calderon, was elected to Knesset on the Yesh Atid ticket. I first met Ruth in the mid-90’s when I came to Israel with a CCAR (Reform Rabbis) trip. She is a brilliant teacher of Talmud who had opened a pluralistic beit midrash (study center) in Tel Aviv called Alma (meaning “world” in Aramaic) where Jewish studies are taught to secular Jews. Since then, Chaim and I have studied with her a number of times in the U.S.

Also now in Knesset on the Yesh Atid slate is a woman named Aliza Lavie whose book A Jewish Woman’s Prayerbook, I own. Yesh Atid also has placed an Ethiopian woman in the Knesset, though I’m not sure if that is a first or not. Meretz, the party we were rooting for, jumped to 7 seats in the coming Knesset.

Netanyahu had big money behind him, just as Romney had. All this is to say that this election, like the one we had in the U.S. in November, could not be bought. That felt refreshing and counterintuitive when I encountered it in November, and I’m not any less uplifted by it occurring here, as well (even thought Netanyahu will still likely be leading the coalition, unless President Shimon Peres surprises everyone by calling on Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, to form the coalition government instead — a long-shot possibility).

Chaim and I stumbled on this lovely riff on Lady Liberty this morning on our way to get our tour bus to the West Bank. Note that she stands in what is called New York Plaza.

statue of liberty

Our tour today to the South Hebron Hills was with a group called Breaking the Silence, “an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life.” (http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/)

It was a truly eye-opening tour which I will be digesting for many days to come. I truthfully am not ready to share much with you about it at this point until I re-read my copious notes and sit with it all a bit more, except for a few West Bank scenes.

west bank

Bucolic West Bank


Beautiful terraced landscapes


In Palestinian Susya, where soldiers decided to stop in and check up on us — they followed us for the rest of the day

separation wall

A glimpse of the separation barrier

This evening we had dinner with Rivanna and Simon, folks whom we had never met before. It was a date arranged by our mutual friend Steve from London, who sent both me and Simon the following email in early January:

Pam meet Simon, Simon meet Pam
Simon is just about my oldest ever friend, he teaches at the university in Jerusalem and leads an amazing charity CCECH the Centre for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage :-
“The CCECH designs and implements innovative education projects that help create a climate of cultural pluralism and inter-generational understanding. Its programmes are based on folklore and focus simultaneously on several issues facing Israeli society and the region: co-existence between neighbouring Arab and Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian, communities caught in the conflict; cultural pluralism; and the transmission of home-culture between generations in modern society.The CCECH has designed programmes that bring together Jewish and Arab (Muslim and Christian) school-communities, based on the research and exchange of participants’ folklore. Participating children, family members (parents and grandparents) and teachers become part of a long-term, cross-cultural, multi-generational experience. The CCECH runs two types of programmes: Jewish and Arab school-community pairing programmes and training and enrichment courses for Arab and Jewish educators.”Pam is an old and dear friend, she is a Reform rabbi from New York who has very similar interests to yours Simon. She is staying in Jerusalem for a few weeks with her husband. You two should meet up, no I will rephrase you two must meet up.

Love to you both, I wish I was sitting at a table in a nice cafe in Jerusalem introducing the two of you and listening to the conversation take off.

Take off, it did. And now we have lovely new friends in Jerusalem! Thanks, Steve.


Rivanna (originally from Rhodesia/Zimbabwe) and Simon (originally from Great Britain)



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