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What My Kids & I Learned From Our First Israeli Election

Reuven_Rivlin_vote_in_Israeli_legislative_election,_2015

Voting in the Israeli elections on Tuesday was an early lesson in civics for our kids. They wanted to know who we were voting for, and why they would be good leaders. We shared the kid-friendly versions of the platforms we were supporting and got them excited about the idea that in a democracy, every vote counts.

Election day was a national holiday in Israel. With a day off from school, and stickers being passed out by every other party enthusiast, what kid wouldn’t be thrilled? A feeling of collective civic action was in the air. Everybody was out, young and old, religious and secular, college students and parents with many kids in tow. I delighted to watch parents helping their grade school children navigate the political party chart. And with only one, two, or three Hebrew letters representing each party, it was as if they were studying the Hebrew version of the periodic table.

Before I made aliyah, Israeli politics were the furthest from my mind. It didn’t affect my day to day life, so why should I have cared? But when I thought about what gives my life real meaning, I would think about the connections I have to my family, my community, and the larger community of the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland. And as I would look at the concentric circles of care and concern in my own life, what happens in the State of Israel began to matter more to me.

As the final polls came in yesterday morning and I was processing my reaction to another four years of a right wing government, I started thinking about the poem by Robert Fulghum, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” and decided to create a parallel list, “Everything I Tell My Kids Every Day, I Need to Tell Myself.” They will be good reminders for me during this post election period.

1. You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Or the Israeli version “Mah sh’yotzei, ani m’rutzeh” (whatever the outcome I’m satisfied): 

I won’t lie. My politics are center-left. And now that a center-right government has been elected to lead Israel for the next four years, I’m concerned about the direction the country will go and how much (more) isolation Israel will face in the international community. But when I walked into my daughter’s kindergarten class and told the head teacher, “I’m not sure about your politics, but I’m depressed,” she reminded me, “The country has spoken. We live in a Democracy.”

READ: Don’t Let Politics Ruin Your Relationships

She is so right about that. While the two centrist parties ran a tight race, in the final analysis, the center-right Likud party received more votes. The center left party leader, Herzog, called Netanyahu to concede and congratulate him on his victory. I am so grateful that the democratic process is robust and thriving.

2. Eyes on mine

When my kids and I get into a conflict and I want them to really listen to me, I need their eye contact. There’s something that happens when we look at each other in the eye when we speak. We both become more present and more real (it’s harder for them to lie).

READ: I Think It’s OK That My Daughter is a Brat

As the Jewish philosopher Levinas has opined, when you look into the eyes of the Other you take ultimate responsibility. I want to continue to cultivate this practice during this post election season. The “other” will be different from me–like the Palestinian activist I met this week in Bethlehem, or the cab driver who is voting for the ultra-Orthodox party, or even a parent from our son’s school who endorses the settler movement. But by looking them in the eyes, I take in who they are and hear what motivates them. I begin to understand their narrative of Israel and engage them a lot more deeply than when I only look into the eyes of those who agree with me.

3. Hold hands

The world can be a scary place for little kids–crossing streets, starting new schools, or going to a new after school activity. As parents, we offer outstretched hands to give them the support they need so they won’t feel so alone or afraid.

READ: How I Taught My Children To Be Less Afraid of Scary Movies

When feeling isolated that the elections didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, I take heart that holding hands with others who have a similar vision to my own will start to build the network of supporters that can push a social agenda forward.

4. Say a Bracha

With some daily prodding, my kids say brachot (blessings) before they eat. It’s a reminder for them (and for me!) to slow down, offer thanks, and not take for granted something as basic as the food they eat every day.

There should be a bracha for the ability to vote in the Israeli elections. This is something that my great grandparents would never have dreamed of. It is an honor to have moved here with my family, to become a citizen of a Jewish State, to have had a voice in the political process, and to be granted the freedom to advocate for the kind of Israel I want my children to thrive in.

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