Rabbi Danny Burkeman, The Community Synagogue, Port Washington, USA
By the time you read this, we will know the results of the Israeli general election for the 20th Knesset.
I will always remember that while I was on my RSY-Netzer gap year in Israel, in a session about aliyah, one of the teachers talked to us about his experience moving to the state.
He told us that by settling in Israel he could have a say in the Jewish future, because he could vote in the Israeli elections, and that we, in the Diaspora, could never have the same direct influence on Israeli society, or by extension play the same part in our shared Jewish future.
The 18-year-old me was very taken by his words, but I do not believe our Jewish future is being exclusively shaped in Israel. I am convinced we in the Diaspora can, and do, have significant influence on the direction of Judaism.
Despite this, I am sure that, at some point, the next prime minister of Israel (as I write this I don’t know who that will be) will stand up and claim that he or she speaks for the Jews of the world, even though we members of Diaspora world Jewry will not have had a chance to elect that individual.
But, at the moment, I do have a chance to go to the polls and vote in Jewish elections taking place here in the USA.
As you may know, the World Zionist Congress will be meeting in Jerusalem this October. This is the same congress first convened by Theodor Herzl in Basel in 1897, and elections are being held in the US to determine who the delegates representing US Jewry will be.
From around the world, 500 delegates are elected or chosen to represent Israel and the Diaspora.
Of those, Israel has 190 delegates, US Jewry has 145 and the UK 19. At the moment, it appears there will not be an election in Britain as seats will be divided proportionally among the Zionist groups, but a lot can still change.
So we in the US are going to the polls, with an online election running until the end of April.
We have 11 parties competing for the Jewish public’s vote, each with a slate of candidates, taken from across the full spectrum of Jewish politics and religion. In the interests of full disclosure I am proud to be on the slate of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America.
Our platform includes our commitment to work for an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic, with a free society committed to equality of religion, gender, race, and ethnicity.
What has struck me is that these are Jewish elections. Jews are voting for other Jews to be their representatives at the congress.
It is a unique opportunity for me as a Jew to place a vote exclusively according to my Jewish values and beliefs, without considering other elements of my identity or national politics.
In this election, I do have a chance to have some say on the direction in which I want Israel to be heading.
I do have an opportunity to vote according to my Judaism for the type of place I want Israel to be. And I do have a chance to decide who will be representing me in Jerusalem this October.
My teacher on shnat was right to say I cannot vote in the Israeli elections, but he was wrong about the fact that I cannot have a say about Israel. Equally importantly, these elections serve as a reminder that if we care about Israel, we must be willing to raise our voices to help her to be the kind of Israel we hope and pray that she can be.
We raise our voices by voting in these elections, but we can also raise our voices by advocating on Israel’s behalf. Today, as Israel faces new threats and challenges, in the court of public opinion, in the theatre of global politics, and on university campuses, we need to be her advocates and defenders.
We may not agree with everything Israel does, but she deserves to be treated in the same way as any other country, and not to be singled out for abuse, condemnation or attack. And as Israel’s partners in this important work, we might not get to vote in her elections, but we will certainly have the opportunity to speak and engage with those who do – in a way that will require them to listen.