Here are two items to think about, without getting too political. The first depicts a one person’s experience of Israel’s first elections after statehood, in 1949. It is arguably true that things were different then. In fact, what separates different camps within the Orthodox world is articulating just what has changed. The second is a link to a speech that the biggest surprise winner in yesterday’s election gave last March in front of a haredi crowd, before Yair Lapid became a candidate. Reasonable people might disagree about what to believe concerning a speech given by a politician. Nonetheless, many of our readers will find themselves identifying with the essential upshot of his argument, even while finding the historical development somewhat wanting. After winning a stunning 19 seats, some of us are going to be scrambling to get a handle on the man and his vision.
A Recollection of Israel’s First Election (thanks to Caren May)
The following item was taken from the diary of Rabbi Moses Yekutiel Alpert of blessed memory who was a teacher in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem and lived from l917 – 1955. Due to his knowledge of foreign languages and his sterling character Rabbi Alpert was appointed “Muchtar” (official leader) of the Jewish neighborhoods in North Jerusalem by the British Mandate Government in l938—including Beit Yisrael, Musrara, Mt. of Olives, Sanhedria, Machanaim and Sneller. This allowed him to move unhindered between the various blockades during the many curfews that the British decreed to restrict free movement by the Jews throughout Jerusalem. Many tales are told of his heroic deeds and acts of chesed which he carried out then.
His grandfather came on Aliya from Slonim in l860. His son Dov was Menachem Begin’s personal secretary for l3 years. He was known as the medic with the flying payot and highly praised by Begin in his book “Revolt”. Rabbi Moses Alpert was an unusual person, a Torah scholar, an outstanding teacher, with a poetic soul, a very moral person and a lover of Zion. He was an active member of Agudat Yisrael and in the elections of l949 he voted “Bet” since that year all the religious parties united and chose the letter “Bet” for their symbol. Here is his description of that momentous day.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2,000 YEARS THE ELECTIONS FOR ISRAEL’S FIRST KNESSET TOOK PLACE, ON THE 14TH OF TEVETH, 25/1/49:
At 5:35 A.M. my wife and I got up early, as did my brother, Reb Shimon Lev, my brother-in-law, Reb Netanel Sleduchin and my son Dov. After we drank a quick cup of coffee we dressed in our Shabbat clothes in honor of this great and holy day for which we recite: “This is the day proclaimed by G-d; let us rejoice and be happy”. After 2,000 years of Exile, actually since the six days of Creation, we have never had an opportunity as today—that we can go and vote in a Jewish State. Blessed be He that He has enabled us to live to see this day. My son, Dov, left the house at 5:45 A.M. and went off wherever he went, because he’s a big supporter of the Herut Party, and he didn’t return all day and all night.
My wife and I and my brother and brother-in-law went to the voting station of District l0, in the Hapoel Hamizrachi Building on Habashim Street, holding our State of Israel issued Identity Card in our hands. We walked the short distance from our house to the poll with great joy. We were currently living downstairs from the Dvasha Goldsmidt family in Batei Wittenberg since our house in Beit Yisrael had been hit by a rocket and was being repaired. That’s why we were assigned to vote at this station, rather than the one in Beit Yisrael.
All the way to the polling station I felt like on Simchat Torah when we dance with the Torah (during the Hakafot), but instead of a Scroll I held my Israeli Identity Card in my hand. You can’t imagine the happiness and joy I felt. At 5:50 A.M. we came to the Hapoel Hamizrachi building. We were the first ones there. Only the janitor was there, and the light were on. I asked the janitor, “Where are the polling officials? They haven’t arrived yet?” We waited until 5:54 A.M. Two members of the committee arrived. At 6:02 the chairman finally came, Mr. —– a lawyer. I complained that he didn’t come on time because by law the polling station was supposed to be open from 6:00 A.M. The chairman apologized.
Then he announced since there was a quorum, the two committee members, an observer from Herut and himself, they could begin to work. The janitor brought the ballot box and the chairman then called me and my brother over to give honor to the elderly and asked us to witness the fact that the box was empty and observe its sealing. This was recorded in the protocol where he wrote, “I, the chairman, arrived at 6:00 A.M. (which isn’t true because we came at 5:50 and he only got there at 6:02), and at 6:23 we opened the proceedings.” The chairman said since I’m the oldest person there I would have the privilege of being the first voter.
Quivering with emotion of awe and sanctity I gave the chairman my Identity Card. He read out my name from the I.D. card and the deputy chairman wrote it on the voters list in front of him as number one. He gave me an envelope and I went into the closed off area where all the party letters were placed. With a shaking hand and a feeling of holiness I chose a note marked “Bet”, the United Religious parties’ letter, placed it carefully in the envelope and returned to the polling station. I showed them all that I only had one envelope in my hand, and then, at the moment of greatest exhilaration in my life, a moment that neither my father, nor my grandfather, nor any of my ancestors experienced, (only I had the privilege), I recited the Shechiyanu blessing and carefully placed the envelope in the ballot box. “Blessed am I and blessed is my portion!” I shook the chairman’s hand heartily and the other committee members’ hands too and went out. I waited for my wife, my brother and brother-in-law and at 6:28 we left. I went off to pray and my wife went home. A great holiday indeed!
Yair Lapid’s Speech at the Haredi Law Track, Kiryat Ono College
Thanks to Dr. Arnold Lustiger