Photo: Shai Rosenzweig
Elections are here
Photo: Shai Rosenzweig

Dear Yoavi

An open letter to my son on the eve of his first chance to vote

In a few days time you will be voting for the first time. I know that you've yet to decide who to vote for, and that is totally okay. You've always been kind of spacey. Why shouldn't you also float a bit?


You are going to discover that if feels powerful to stand inside a voting booth. All cynicism aside, it is our most meaningful moment as citizens.


Do not take it for granted. There are only 80 genuine democracies in the world (out of 192 countries), which shows that most of the inhabitants of this planet do not have the privilege to do what for you seems to be the most basic lesson in civics.


Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as a government "by the people, for the people." He was talking about you, meaning that 'the people' have not yet cleaned up their room.


Basic instructions


Let me give you a few operating instructions.: You will walk down our street, pass the Yemenite guy earning minimum wage who'll tell you that Amir Peretz will raise the minimum wage. You'll to the elementary school you attended, turn right after the memorial wall and enter the classroom where you attended fourth grade.


Now, too, you may only speak by raising your hand – to put the ballot in the box, that is. The heavy-set woman in the green sweater will register the details of your ID card and the religious fellow will look sort of past your shoulder to make sure you are who you say you are and not Yossi Beilin masquerading as a blonde.


You will then be handed a green envelope and with it you will disappear behind the curtain. Facing you will be a tray of ballots and, like everyone, you will try and check which pile is the shortest. Afterwards, you will hesitate (again, just like everyone else).


And even after you put your vote in the envelope and seal it, you won't be sure you didn't get confused. Not to worry, there isn't anyone who walks out feeling any different. Even now, I'm not so sure that in the 1984 elections I put Shamir next to Peres so that he wouldn't feel lonely.


Fragile history


History, Yoavi, is a fragile thing. So little is needed for it to change. On November 26, 1947 the United Nations was meant to vote on the establishment of the State of Israel. We did not have enough votes pass, so Abba Eban convinced some South American ambassador to continue speaking for three hours until everyone got tired and postponed the fateful vote for three days.


That was all the time it took to convince another 13 countries to vote for us. Three days. If we would not have waited until November 29, you would be a proud Palestinian today. You were saved from that fate just because the sleepy delegate from Guatemala did not want to postpone his dinner.


I know, Yoavi, that you belong to a generation that has gotten used to not believing. Politics seems like a pathetic game to you - dirty, where everyone swindles everyone.


Maybe it's true, but it is the only game in town. In 1977, it was people your age who pushed out the only Mapai led government. In 1992, people your age chose the dreams of peace over the screams of war, and four years after that people your age gave Netanyahu the fraction of a percent he needed, because they stopped believing all the promises.


Trust your instincts


Believe in yourself. Believe in your instincts, your grasp of reality, your ability between that which has value and that which is worthless.


Elections, my child, are the time when millions of people leave their homes and say to themselves: "What difference will my vote make?" Major political upheavals have been caused by less.


The day after the 1948 presidential elections in the U.S., the New York Post heralded: "Dewey Wins." I know that you have never heard of Dewey; no one remembers the losers.


But at two o'clock in the morning, after the newspaper had already gone to print, it turned out that Dewey actually lost the election to Harry Truman by the smallest margin ever recorded in American history.


Fateful election


Truman was the man who decided, in contrast to most of his advisors (including his defense secretary) to support the U.N. resolution establishing the State of Israel.


If Dewey had won, chances are there would have never been an Israel, I would not have met your mother and you would not have been born. There's a sleepy old guy in her album to whom you owe your life because he decided to postpone his dinner engagement.


Like in the song, my son, it's not just up to us. Life is a kind of blurry business and we have to do our best. The very same Harry Truman once owned a clothing store in Missouri, but it went bankrupt. Out of despair, Truman went into politics.


Born equal


If we continue to use his example, five suits that remained on the racks in Missouri in the 1930s enabled Israeli politicians to tailor their own suits in Jerusalem in 2006. Strange, don't you think?


All men (and women) are born equal, but they must work hard in order to stay that way. Forget for a moment one's civic obligation, the fate of the country, even your father's opinion. Vote, because that is how you define the kind of person you are.


Vote because you want to be master of your own fate. Vote because people who say it doesn't matter, really don't. Anyone who lives in this world and thinks he is small and stupid becomes small and stupid.


There's an old (and chauvinistic) Portuguese saying: "A man doesn't become a man until he has a child, plants a tree and writes a book."


Or in modern Hebrew, life doesn't happen by itself. You have to choose it.


פרסום ראשון: 03.21.06, 19:02
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