Although it’s not too late for a Jew to hop on a plane, make aliyah and vote in Israel’s upcoming election, there are other, easier ways to participate in Israeli politics. Diaspora Jews can “vote” with donations, expressing their feelings through charitable contributions, and – when done strategically and generously, – change history.
There are many excellent organizations working to fulfil the Zionist dream in Israel. But considering the burning issues in this election, these organizations reinforce my vote.
Here’s what I seek in a candidate: someone who keeps Israel safe while improving its relations with our Arab neighbours; who counteracts the harm the chief rabbinate does, while fighting to expand religious freedom and the quality of Jewish life; who is honest and defends democracy; who will deliver quality education; and who will unify the Jewish people, bridging the gap between Israel and the Diaspora.
On security, the website of Friends of the IDF is a go-to address for those who wish to help Israeli soldiers currently serving, as well as injured veterans. It’s quite moving when you visit some remote army base and you see gym equipment donated by a family from abroad. You can also go more informal by finding a kid who is serving and offering to cover a pizza party or some other treat for his or her unit. Remember, these are young people – a generous freebie from abroad is a big thrill for them.
For those of us disgusted by the occasional goons who harass Arabs, imposing “price tag” attacks on homes, cars and sometimes humans, Tag Meir is the perfect response. A clever, redemptive twist on tag mechir (Hebrew for “price tag”), every dollar donated to this anti-bigotry coalition advocates for co-existence and against hooliganism. Talk about money well spent.
When it comes to religion and state issues, my favourite organization fighting the good fight is Tzohar. This group of rabbis started simply by trying to improve the quality of pastoral services at the Israeli wedding. Tzohar has expanded and expanded, taking on important projects to make it easier to convert, more meaningful to pray and less alienating for secular Jews to handle the Jewish state’s Jewishness.
In the fight against corruption and for democracy, I lean towards the intellectual, I confess. But almost every time I read something intelligent about the attempt to cleanse, improve and perfect Israeli democracy, I encounter the same organization: the Israel Democracy Institute. The IDI stands for integrity, good process and a moral and intelligent approach to many political problems.
Regarding education, I invest in two institutions that worked brilliantly for my children: the Shalom Hartman Institute’s boys high school and the Israel Arts and Science Academy. Both of these institutions do a great job of sharpening students’ minds, but even more importantly, the extraordinary educators involved help stretch students’ souls. You can’t ask for much more than that, especially in high school.
Finally, the single most effective educational intervention in the world of Jewish identity in the 21st century is also the single most effective bridge-builder between Israel and the Diaspora: Birthright Israel. We tend to focus on how much that free trip to Israel did for our kid, our nephew or our neighbour. But multiply that by 750,000 and counting. Imagine what it’s been doing for us, the Jewish people.
Making this list is so easy, yet so frustrating. It’s easy because each organization is world-class and deserves full support, but frustrating because so many other worthy candidates are doing great work, too.
When it comes to voting, you’re allowed one vote per election. But when voting-by-giving, you can follow the advice of the old corrupt Chicago politicians – vote early and vote often!