Yesterday was November 29th, a significant day in Israeli history because of a vote in the United Nations. Not the vote that actually happened yesterday, but because of a vote which took place 65 years ago. In that vote the United Nations approved the Partition Plan for Palestine, which decreed that in place of the British Mandate they would be establishing a Jewish state and an Arab state.
On the news throughout the day there were clips of the speeches and moments in the UN, alongside footage of Jews celebrating in the streets of Israel. As I watched the clips I couldn’t help but think about what those people must have been thinking and hoping for the newly approved Jewish State. They had come to settle the land, make the desert bloom, and establish a State – the vote meant that their dreams were truly becoming a reality.
That is the Israel of yesterday, but what of the Israel of today?
While I am sure that many people will have focussed on the fact that 65 years later another vote at the United Nations approved Palestine as a non-member UN state observer, I want to focus on what I saw in Israel yesterday.
Visiting with family, we went to the neighborhood in South Tel Aviv where my Saba (Israeli grandfather) grew up. Most of the people we met there were alive when the vote took place back in 1947, and it was wonderful to see how, despite all the pictures we saw recently on the news, life there has returned back to normal. The shops were full, we struggled to get a table at a wonderful Yemenite restaurant (message me for the name) and we generally enjoyed the vibrancy of Tel Aviv.
What struck me the most about South Tel Aviv was the number of Arab women walking around the streets, working in the shops and sitting in the restaurants. We also had a lovely conversation with our Arab taxi driver, Hassan. The picture we often get is one of enmity between Jews and Arabs, but on these streets everyone went about their business with no sign of tension or animosity.
That evening, with my uncle and aunt we went to a concert; it was a packed auditorium filled with people who had come to see the Harlem Gospel Choir (yes I might be the only person to travel from New York to Tel Aviv to see a choir from New York). They sang songs from Whitney Houston, they sang songs from their Church and they even sang a selection of Christmas carols. This is the Israel we never see or read about, the Israel where a Christian choir can wish a largely Jewish audience “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” (I have the video to prove it).
That is the Israel of today, but what of the Israel of tomorrow?
If yesterday wasn’t busy enough, it was also the day of the Labor party primaries. In a variety of locations across the country members of the party got the chance to vote for their list of candidates for the forthcoming election. With the proportional representation system people vote for a party, and then based on the percentage of votes each party receives, they receive a percentage of the seats in the next Knesset (Parliament). There were a number of candidates I was interested in following, but I was most interested in seeing how Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israel Reform Movement, faired.
Today, when the results came in Gilad finsihed in 28th position. Realistically Labor is unlikely to receive much more than 21 seats (although there is a lot of campaigning left to do) and so he is unlikely to become a Chaver Knesset (a Member of the Knesset). But, I still believe that people will look back at his campaign and note that this was an important first step. Rabbi Kariv received significant attention for his campaign in the Israeli media, and for the first time (I believe) a Reform Rabbi is standing for the Knesset representing a major Israeli political party (it is not so long ago that number 28 on the Labor list would have almost guaranteed a seat).
We, who live in the Diaspora, have an opportunity to support the work of Rabbi Gilad Kariv and the Israeli Reform Movement, to ensure that the Israel of tomorrow will be built on democratic values, pluralism and concern for all her citizens.