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  • Martin van den Bergh

The privilege of living in Israel

Last Tuesday was our second General Election this year in Israel. Those outside Israel may be somewhat confused with both the General Election and its outcome, and to be honest so am I. However, I felt it is a privilege to vote here and participate in a democratic process. Here in Israel a General Election is public holiday, and there was a real holiday feeling. This feeling of privilege even pervaded the confusion I felt both before and after the election.


My confusion emanated from my own feeling that it was not so much a question of who to vote for, but of who not to vote for. Added to this is the question of religious coercion. While I certainly support the notion that Israel is a Jewish state, and for me Jewish means respecting its religious heritage and history, I am also very uncomfortable with religion being forced down people's throats. I am also very uncomfortable with non observant Jews being denied their Jewish identity. I have spent my professional career as a rabbi, helping people to be comfortable in their own Jewish identity and helping them to strengthen their own religious and spiritual commitment, while aspiring to not being judgemental. Underlying all this, has been to try promote a Judaism which is pleasant in all its ways, and which promotes a positive way of life. In this context I have met many people who may not appear to be so observant, but yet have a great love for their Jewish heritage. I was once guarding the dedication of a Sefer Torah at a Sephardi synagogue. Many of those present, men and women, showed a wonderful love of Torah even though their dress style may not have indicated that they were so "religious".


So when it comes to the elections, I have been somewhat cautious of parties who have promoted a dogmatic form of religious observance, just as I have resisted parties which have been somewhat anti-religious. Yet, we also need to acknowledge that there needs to be a balance, and this balance also needs to recognise that Israel is home to Jews from all over the world, as well as to non-Jews, who all have rights as citizens of the State of Israel. As has already been observed, those who accuse Israel of being an apartheid state, should observe that the Knesset will have Arab members, some of whom argue against the continuing existence of the State of Israel.


Yet, despite all this, I still feel it a great privilege to be both living here in Israel and having participated in these elections.

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