Thanks everyone for the wonderful emails and calls in the past several days on a range of big questions. (feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my cell at 617 899 3282 if you have any urgent questions)
I’m off to be a keynote of the Jewish Youth Philanthropy Summit in Denver as part of the Jewish Funders Network conference. There we are launching with the Meyerson Foundation JPhilanthropy.com and also want to thank K’vod Wieder and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Ricki Shectel was great in sponsoring the special issue of Sh’ma/JVibe that explores what a Jewish youth philanthropy movement could be and it was distributed to the JFN membership.
I am pleased to report that I have been deputized to represent President Katzav’s World Jewish Forum and the philanthropic day school initiative when I am in Denver.
NOTE: My wife tells me that pointing out someone else’s yetzer ha’ra, evil inclination, who works in Jewish life, is giving into my own yetzer ha’ra and I should therefore remove the whole saga of why I am not attending the JFN conference. So what appeared below is now removed.
Shabbat shalom, Yossi
On behalf of Avraham Neguse–number one on the Atid Echad list
and Rabbi Yechezkel Steltzer–second in command–I want to thank all the people who supported our quest to empower the Ethiopian Israeli community in these Knesset elections.
It was like a freedom ride through Israel's poorest neighborhoods, as we criss-crossed the country getting out the vote. We came up short, with 13,165 votes. But better funded and well established parties–from shineui, to herut to green leaf to tnufa–didn’t make the threshhold either. In cities and towns where we had an organization, we scored votes. In one town, we scored over forty percent. But in most places it was 1-2 percent.
It was a roller coaster of an emotional day. Strong start; our goal was to get our voters out early. The monitors at each kept ringing Avraham, but not always with good news. Many were turned away due to citizenship/technical problems and that was the dominant obstacle all day. Appeals to the Central Election Commission were futile.
By mid-day all local organizers were reporting good turnout among our base. Every polling place we visited was actually sleepy, among all the numerous staffed tables with posters and all the materials. But when Avraham arrived, the place went crazy. And as the sun set on our way from Ashdod to Netanya, the crowds increased in size and intensity. More Israelis came out to vote in the final hours. So we had contradictory emotions: joy at the growing momentum of the day and anguish that the voter turnout–which was going to be low and this worked in our favor–started to accelerate. A lower overall voter turnout, while not a good sign overall for the country, works in favor of smaller parties with dedicated bases.
When a rumor began to spread amount the activists that Israeli TV reported we were number eleventh on the overall Knesset voting–which meant that we were going to pass the threshold and was very believable by the field reaction Avraham was receiving–the joy of success was contageous.
Needless to say, we’re disappointed. Avraham and Yechezkel are an amazing team. And they are both starting to think about a long-term movement. Participating, even mostly from afar, was deeply inspiring. Ricki Lieberman, from the U.S., and I were in the back-seat, while Yechezkel, born in Argentina, drove, and Avraham, from Ethiopia directed and stayed on the phone. None of us were born in Israel but all of us were working for its future. I took forty one pages of journalistic notes and hope to put something comprehensive together, probably during Passover.
It was a unique Jewish peoplehood experience and opens the door to new avenues where Jews from around the world can support Jewish social justice in the Jewish state and help us all realize our collective values.
Walking at 2 a.m. through the streets of Jerusalem in the emerging spring leaves room for imagination. The clanking of my shoes on the stone sidewalks brings me to a poster “Free Jonathan Pollard”" and buses carry the “21 years in jail” with I think www.FreePollard.org URL. Tonight’s big winner? Rafi Eitan and the party devoted to issues of the elderly, with about 8 seats from zero. Stunning. Rafi Eitan is best known for being Pollard’s spy-master. Today Caspar Weinberger, whose still secret memo to Judge Robinson put Pollard in prison for life despite a plea agreement and much evidence to counter the alleged Weinberger Memo, died. Pollard-Rafi Eitan-Weinberger all in one night is weird. More weird stuff later.
Yafet, an energetic and enterprising Ethiopian leader who also has smicha from the Masorti movement here, and I reconnect by phone after many years. Yechezkel Stelzer, Atid Echad #2 and designated driver, is charedi (non-coersive). Avraham, who is sitting in the passenger seat, hands me the phone to speak to Yafet. “Yossi!” he beams”, “”History is being made today, we can see it before our eyes.” I respond that “”After the first World Zionist Congress Herzl wrote in his diary that ‘today I created the Jewish state.’ Yafet, today we are recreating the Jewish state and are returning her to her original roots: aliya, klita and education.”
A caravan of 10 Atid Echad plastered cars winds its way through the streets of Ashdod, horns beeping. Atid Echad flags and posters decorate the cars. Someone created in Amharic an Atid Echad soundtrack and theme song, which is blaring onto the streets. As we approach loudly and slowly different streets, people begin to look in our direction skeptically. When they see Avraham in the front seat, the waves and cheers begin. Some children race along the cars. Smiles are instant, and not just among Ethiopians. Election day in Israel is a free day, a paid holiday. So there are also a lot of weddings today. In Israel, the wedding couple’s car is decorated with ribbons and they drive around honking the horn. We passed many of them. Somehow the symmetry between new beginnings, open festivities and hope for the future seemed like a natural part of our unscripted inspiring journey.
Throughout Israel as we waded into the crowds standing outside of election sites, people reached out to Avraham. The traditional double and triple cheek kisses abounded among Ethiopians. The set up in each location is is the same: tables with materials and banners for various parties and candidates hang behind the people staffing them, most wearing T shirts of the party. At each location we stopped, there were the purple and blue Atid Echad banners with Avraham’s picture and our call letters-ZE. For the first time, the community had literally an equal place at the election tables. And at each, the people staffing other tables would seek out Avraham, shake his hand, yell ëncouraging words, clap. Outside the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff community center in I think bet shemesh, a white labor party activist was quite enthusiastic. In Ashdod, another, I think also Labor, said that if Ashdod were any indication, Avraham would be prime minister.
Amir Peretz took the stage to address the nation but was upstaged by Olmert, who the TV sound went to quickly but kept the split screen. How symbolic and symptomatic of Israeli political culture–speaking at but not listening. Olmert’s speech, call for unity and for a focus on education were all great. But the split screen showed that the party was at Labor party headquarters, with clapping, music, a full stage and celebrations.
It is now 1:26am and Ynet reports that 25% of the votes have been counted and Atid Echad has finally appeared, with .4 percent. We need 2% but it is the first validation that Avraham’s critique of the exit polls is being reflected now.
It is 12:30am Israel time; we’ve just completed a dizzying and exciting cross country tour of cities and mostly poorer neighborhoods, where Avraham Neguse, our party leader, was greeted with such energy that it is hard to imagine that Atid Echad wouldn’t pass the minimum 2% threshhold. We sat at our headquarters in Rechvot–a converted run-down two bedroom apartment in one of the poorest neighborhoods–waiting and watching TV until the 10pm exit polls, which showed a dramatic re-alignment of the Israeli scene but no mandates yet for Atid Echad.
By looking at the faces of the children who chased our decorated campaign car, I quickly realized that this is not just a campaign for today and for power, but the four-week sprint into Israeli political life is a campaign for hope among the most powerless and poorest of Israel. And a campaign for he future character of the Jewish state. Avraham, watching the exit polls in front of his core staff and followers, continues to demonstrate not just leadership but hope. He has been the vessle for the dreams of so many. And when a Yediot Acharonot reporter calls at 11:15pm to ask him for a comment about not making it into the Knesset, Avraham is clear, as he had been for the past hour and fifteen minutes: The Ethiopian community, he explains in his matter-of-fact style, does not answer exit polls because of both language and culture. When they actually count the votes, he continues, we expect to pass the threshhold.
Surprised but convinced, the reporter thanks him for the comment and wishes him success, with a hint of gusto. Avraham’s hope is contageous to all who meet him.
Just then, a police car with its lights flashing pulls up next to Avraham, who is driving both the aspirations of the community but also the white Almera five seater. The officer rolls down his window; Avraham rolls his down as well, expecting to hear words. Instead, the officer gives a dramatic and respect-filled salute. And Avraham waves, as he has done to thousands and thousands that we have met and passed on the streets.
It’s a beautiful morning in Jerusalem, with the sun warming up the chilly air. I walked up two flights of stairs at Bet Elisheva, found the appropriate room and was the first voter in that room. A paper Israeli flag hung front and center over a white board. Two people check my Passport, look at my Internet voting sheet, hand me a little blue envelop and send me behind a small divider where tiny boxes with little white pieces of paper with Hebrew letters on them sit waiting. I find Atid Echad (ZE), take one and put into the envelop. And I take another as a souvenir; it’s not everyday that one gets to see within the Israeli political system one’s fingerprint. The envelop goes into a cardboard voting box. Now off to the polls around the country!
PS The Central Bureau of Statistics has lowered the amount needed to pass the achuz; was about 80,000, then 70,000, now could be as low as 54,000 votes with a low turnout. That’s good for Atid Echad, bad for the country’s civil society.
A glorious day in Jerusalem. Most of the people I meet are undecided in the elections, so I worked the plane a bit as well. Had half a dozen meetings at Cafit cafe with various contacts and kol dor friends. Many voters have not heard of or considered Atid Echad but I have found that it takes little to convince them. Most kadima voters I have spoken with seem to be very soft in their support, almost like it is just a default.
Had wonderful meetings throughout the day, including at the President’s and our continued organizational involvement with the World Jewish Forum. I reported back on the feedback from the PEJE donor assembly.
went to the kotel late tonight and chaired by cell phone, while leaning against the cold wall, the Koret International Jewish Book Awards governing meeting. Felt very plugged into history in a mystical way, with the whole area lit up, talking about the future of Jewish books with Torah scrolls and prayer books around.
Did a BBC/NRP interview. They were perplexed about the use of my word “Zionist” and kept trying to ask if we were settlers, etc. Then they asked if I would give up my U.S. citizenship if elected. I answered that it would be bittersweet but I would never give up my loyalty to Red Sox nation. The interviewer then asked if most Knesset members were Red Sox or Yankee fans. I’ll try to get a link to the radio interview later if it played but the answer cracked up the host. I said that since Israel is surrounded by a billion Muslims and 23 Arab states, we’re certainly the under-dog, which would make it that the Knesset should be Red Sox fans.
Tomorrow I vote early, join the election team and we criss-cross most of the country together before I catch my Wed. AM flight back. What an honor to be joining Avraham Neguse in the pursuit of Jewish and Zionist visions and to be able to leverage our Jewish values approach to advance Jewish education in the Jewish state.
for a little slice of personal history, it has been an honor to be a candidate.