Appreciate each step towards the ballot box

  • Howard Feldman 2018
It’s Tuesday, 9 April 2019, and as I write this, Israelis are casting their vote. They have from 07:00 this morning until 22:00 this evening to do so. Already, my social media feeds are flooded with photos of families celebrating the right to choose the future direction of the country.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Apr 11, 2019

You will read this armed with more knowledge than me about the outcome, and yet for my purposes, the result hardly matters. What is of significance is that for the 21st time since 1948 (more accurately 1949), a free and fair election is taking place in Israel.

Many of us (myself included) were born after Israel’s declaration. We have no real understanding of what it means to live in a world without the presence of a Jewish state and all that it represents. My father remembers it well, and often describes a time that was lonely and frightening. This is no surprise, given the historical events and context of that period.

The run-up to any election is never pleasant. Honest people make promises that they have no intention of keeping, and every sentence uttered by an opponent is deconstructed to expose the cracks. Friends and colleagues stand on the opposite end of a fictitious spectrum. With all the noise and mudslinging, it’s easy to forget the essence of what it means to have the privilege of voting.

On my radio show this morning, I read a first-hand account of Rabbi Moshe Alpert, voter number 1, in 1949. He describes how they woke up early, donned their Shabbat clothes, and walked with reverence to the voting station. There was a mystical quality to his narrative, and I couldn’t help but get drawn into the significance of the event.

It reminded me of the way in which South Africans describe 1994.

South Africa, too, is headed for an election, and will go to the polls next month. Although the countries are separated by the length of a continent, the parallels are significant. Both are young democracies, with South Africa enjoying only its sixth democratic election. Both countries have citizens who know and understand what it means to be disenfranchised, what it means to be vulnerable, and many will recall the first experience of voting as a nation.

South Africa, too, has a lot of noise ahead of us. The cacophony of accusations and blame, of promises and lies, will increase, before the country makes a decision about its future. There is no doubt that the next few weeks ahead of the May election will be filled with political antics and irresponsible behaviour. We are seeing it already, and the intensity will only increase. We can ask and hope for responsible electioneering, but the experience of almost every country in the world indicates that it will not be any different.

What is important is that we continue to remind ourselves what it means to be able to have a say in the future of the country. It is vital to remind ourselves that the right to vote is not a given, and to remind ourselves about what it meant to live without the ability to be heard.

When it comes time for South Africans to cast their ballot, we need to take a leaf out of Rabbi Alpert’s book, don our clothes with religious reverence, and appreciate each step that we have taken, and each step that we will take towards the ballot box.


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