September has always been a month of new beginnings for me. When I was a child, school began the first week of September, usually 2 days after the American holiday of Labor Day. When I was in university, classes began that day as well. In Israel, school begins on the 1st of September and for years, that day marked the end of summer holidays, when all the children were finally back in school.
It has been many years since my own children were in school but yesterday, I was able to enjoy my grandchildren’s first day. I have four grandchildren in Karnei Shomron and they all started something yesterday. My oldest grandson started First Grade, a milestone indeed, and his younger brothers started pre-school and day care respectively. Another grandson started day care together with his cousin. In Efrat, a grandson started daycare. And my nieces and nephews were all involved in packing their kids off to their first day. Our family Whatsapp group was alive with adorable photos of first day back in school.
But yesterday was also the first day of the month of Elul, the month that precedes the Jewish New Year. It is a special month of the year and one that is dedicated to reflection and preparation for the intense prayers and repentance that we experience on the Jewish New Year and throughout the 10 days that lead up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The shofar is blown each morning in synagogue as a sort of wake-up call for rechecking the connections that we have with G-d and with our fellow human beings. Elul is referred to as the month of mercy and forgiveness. We seek mercy and forgiveness from G-d but we believe that G-d will not forgive us for any injuries we may have caused to our fellow human beings if they do not forgive us first. So it is a month of renewed friendships and relationships as well.
This year, September also brings us new elections in Israel. Normally, that would be a time of heightened excitement, especially for the more politically-inclined among us. And I have always been politically inclined. But these elections are something else indeed. We were excited and charged for the elections that took place in April and all those in the communities were excited that Netanyahu seemed to have won the support of most of the Knesset and could put together a government. Until petty politics and egos got in the way. In the end, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself just weeks after it had been convened and new elections were called. Netanyahu had failed to put together a government.
On September 17th, we will, therefore, go to the polls again. While some of the parties joined forces this time to try to prevent the loss of valuable votes for parties that would not pass the threshold, most of the players remain the same. And most of the polls indicate the results will remain the same. The country remains solidly right-wing in orientation but one of the right-wing parties, led by Avigdor Lieberman, continues to refuse to support Netanyahu as prime minister. If the election results match these polls, once again, Netanyahu will face stalemate.
I have analyzed the politics of this situation in an earlier newsletter (June 4th) and nothing has changed since then. But given that we are now just two weeks before the election and given that we are in September, when all good things begin, and given that we are in Elul, when our relationships are renewed, I would like to suggest a new way of looking at what lies ahead.
The rhetoric that we will be hearing from politicians from now until election day, will be full of venom and pettiness. That is the nature of the game. But at the same time, I expect that far fewer Israelis will take the trouble to go out and vote. Election Day is a national holiday and most people will be out shopping, enjoying the beach or just relaxing. Many will get together with family or join friends for dinner . I have already invited my dearest friends to a BBQ that night when we will watch the results together on TV. But whereas in previous years the point of the evening was to follow the election returns and discuss their ramifications, this time, the point of the evening will be to enjoy each other’s company.
Regardless of the results of the next elections, the people of Israel will be united in one thing — we want real people with real values to run the country. We are tired of petty hatred and bickering between politicians. Many people on the right and on the left will stay home this time because they don’t want to vote for anyone, a fact that may well skew the elections results because low voter turnout can boost the smaller parties whose supporters are more fervent in their support.
Don’t get me wrong. These elections are critical for Israel and especially for the settlement movement. As President Trump prepares to unveil his Deal of the Century, it is essential that a right-wing government control Israel. And so I will vote for a right-wing party and hope that a right-wing government is formed. But regardless of what happens, I know that the people of Israel are moving closer to one another, not further. That real relationships between people are stronger than ever. That more and more people in Israel are seeking more meaningful relationships with G-d and are uniting around such timeless Jewish values as family, the Sabbath and unity as a people.
The elections may end up being a disaster, but I am confident that during this month of Elul and September, we will indeed find new meaning in our relationships with one another as a people.