Columns | Shlicha's/Shaliach's View

Easy or not, it’s all about participation

Inbal Shtivi, Tucson’s shlicha, votes in the Israeli election at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, Sept. 5. (Courtesy Inbal Shtivi)

The dark I-10 road of the Arizona desert was never-ending. Hours and hours of driving, passing dozens of trailer trucks, with both kids sleeping in their seats. Me and my husband, Eran, perfectly awake, fully aware to the dangers of this night ride. We were listening to music downloaded to my smartphone. Anything from world music to classic Israeli. It was our first trip out of Tucson since we got here, and we were planning on it before even leaving Tel Aviv. It’s election season in Israel, and as emissaries, we have the privilege to participate, despite our distant location across the ocean. I submitted this column to the AJP on Sept. 17, the actual Election Day in Israel, with the results yet to be known.   

It was the first time I had to invest so much in fulfilling my basic right to participate in the democratic process. Back home, only five months ago, we took our bicycles for a five-minute ride down the street to vote. And still many in Israel don’t bother. Voting rates in April 2019 stood at a mere 60% (back in 1949, it was almost full participation with 89%). Is it indifference? Despair? Protest? I am not totally sure there is one answer. (Editor’s note: As of Sept. 18, voter turnout was reported at 69.4%, slightly higher than in April).

In the car, we have just decided not to stop for the night and go straight all the way to Los Angeles. The kids are asleep; we are not tired. We can avoid expected morning traffic and be at the Israeli Consulate on time.

Finally, it is all about choices. Some taken in advance, some along the way. One choice taken during a short Thursday afternoon at the end of June was to come here, to Tucson. We had no idea what this decision would require from us, but we knew that this would be our way to take action. To be part of a long chain of change-makers, and maybe change ourselves. In some ways, not saying yes to this challenge would have been irresponsible, just like choosing not to vote is irresponsible.

Of course, our vote, our vision, doesn’t always match up with reality.  In Israel, there are almost 6 million potential voters, and a quick glance at the political map immediately tells that at least half of us will not be pleased the next day. The real question to me though is not the party for which I voted but what was I engaged in, in between those scarce opportunities. What kind of action do I, and my social and family circles, take to advance the causes we find important? What kind of choices do I make to advance a desired change? Exercising my civic right by putting a small note in a blue box is a privilege. Being awake and aware comes with a responsibility. Taking action and being part of the conversation is an honor. Even if it means driving in the dark desert all the way to L.A.

Inbal Shtivi is Tucson’s community shlicha (Israeli emissary) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center, a joint program of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Tucson Jewish Community Center.