Knowing the Value of Our Voice

March 20, 2024Judy Landis

The early spring that was promised on Groundhog Day may not have arrived yet, but the news cycle is already focused on a fall holiday known as Election Day. The RAC’s “Every Voice, Every Vote 2024” campaign is about to launch, with the hope that we can make our own cycles and circles and form a collective outreach program that will ensure a stellar (and needed) turnout in November. Our goal, as always, is to protect the issues that we, as Reform Jews, support and advocate for every single day.

The fate of Israel is very much on my mind, having returned only a month ago from the WRJ and WRN solidarity mission: “We Will Not Be Silent.” As I think about the voice and power of every American voter, my visits to three kibbutzim are on my mind.

K’far Azza, as its name suggests, sits within view of an unexpected Gaza skyline in the distance. There is a low buzz of activity in the kibbutz; although only four months had passed since the October 7 pogrom, the overgrown grass and overall emptiness give a feeling of a far longer untouched time capsule. Visitors no longer need to wear flak jackets, and occasional blasts from IDF bombers can be faintly heard in the distance. 

Saria*, a daughter of K’far Azza, had been on holiday in Portugal, and speaks softly about learning of the attack while on the phone with her family. At every corner she shows us not just another house in tatters, but one where a niece or nephew, parent or sibling, cousin, friend or friend’s child- used to live. To respect the privacy of these families, we are asked not to take photos of these houses, and if we must, to make sure no surnames are visible in the frame.

As we approach some smaller homes at the village’s western edge, separated from Gaza only by open fields and remnants of a fence, we were encouraged to take photos including names. These were the homes of young adults who had recently “graduated” from their parents’ homes. On what remains of every facade, a “bring them home” sign tells us who perished, and who was taken hostage. The families want us to make sure that the victims and the hostages are not forgotten.

At Kibbutz Shefayim, north of Tel Aviv, we meet with evacuees from K’far Azza. Former resident Liora narrates a minute-by-minute account of her 48-hour ordeal. The night before, there was a family holiday gathering at her son’s home. Two grandchildren went back to her house for an overnight. They awake to a text that they at first thought was a bad joke from her grandson: “Abba took his gun and went to protect the Kibbutz; there are terrorists in the Kibbutz.” Liora spent the next 35 hours in her safe room with the grandchildren that had slept over. Her 15-year-old granddaughter Gali was “recruited” into a soldiers’ WhatsApp chat and calmly “guided” the map-less IDF troops as they set out to rescue and secure the village. She remained calm even as they heard sounds of human pain and injury around them outside. While living in complete darkness as night fell, Gali tells the soldiers they are more or less okay in the safe room and to tend to those more acutely injured first. Only after they are finally evacuated, behind a human chain of soldiers, does Liora learn that her son, Gali’s dad, had fallen while defending the kibbutz. 

Lee Seigel lives on Kibbutz Gezer. His brother, Keith, and Keith’s wife, Aviva, were taken hostage on October 7, with Aviva being released during the ceasefire exchange last fall. He keeps his brother literally on his heart by wearing a “#BringThemHome” t-shirt with Keith’s image. I have never met Lee before now, but it is not hard to sense the fatigue on his face and in his voice. Since her release, Aviva has shared some details of her and Keith’s existence as hostages; they could not speak to one another above a whisper; they were barely fed; sanitary conditions were almost non-existent. Somehow Lee, devoted to securing Keith’s safe return, is able to find threads of irony and possible humor even after months of captivity. 

“They had to share a toothbrush?” Lee relates. “You don’t understand, my brother could never eat without washing his hands; I can just imagine how he took to the shared toothbrush.” Lee isn’t political in his remarks; he just wants his brother back and does not want to be marginalized by anyone who doesn’t see release of the hostages as the highest priority. 

There are many differences in how Israel’s parliamentary elections work as compared to our electoral college, but our two democracies are both built on the importance of each individual vote, and that turning out voters can change the outcome of a close contest. We were taught in grade school that every vote matters, though it is possible that the notion did not resonate fully until we witnessed the laser-thin margins in Florida’s 2000 Presidential vote or in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania during the 2020 election. 

In its data analysis of Israel’s 2022 election, The Times of Israel extracts certain points and statistics that bear some familiarity to our last presidential election, and to the current cycle. Just as in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, there was increased turnout for both the winning and losing coalitions in the 2022 Knesset balloting. In the end, the raw vote margin was a relatively mere 30,000 out of close to 4.8 million total votes cast. 

I don’t have a crystal ball and cannot pretend to know whether the October 7 attacks would have happened under different Israeli leadership. Would a different government have been better prepared? Or more successful at freeing the hostages? Would the pain of the families’ stories be any less? I do know that if I was an Israeli who didn’t vote in 2022, I would be asking myself if I could have made a difference.  

I’m not an Israeli citizen, but I am an American citizen and have a say in our 2024 election. In a world of thin electoral margins, there are things I can do to overcome voter suppression tactics and mobilize others to vote in support of democratic principles, reproductive rights, and the U.S.-Israel relationship. “Every Voice, Every Vote 2024” will provide us with the tools to accomplish these goals.

Related Posts

Celebrating 100 Years: A Journey Through Time

This year my congregation is celebrating a very special milestone: the 100-year anniversary of our community. Temple Israel Long Beach in southern California was chartered in February 1924. For this important anniversary, the temple has been celebrating with many events throughout the year.