Philadelphians in Israel Explain Their Votes


Exponent staffer Amishai Gottlieb caught up with some Philadelphians living in Israel as they cast their votes in Tuesday's election. 

BEERSHEVA, Israel — It's sometimes easy to forget that Israel is a very young nation, created only in 1948. But whenever elections arrive, the fact that the Jewish state is still trying to define itself is brought clearly into focus by the passionate cacophony of voices that head to the polls.

This time, Israel’s 20th election, was no different, as an estimated 72 percent of Israelis cast their ballot in Tuesday’s election. Among them were scores of individuals with Philadelphia ties who now call Israel home.

“Living in Israel is like living on the edge all the time,” said Philip Field, 68, who headed Akiba Hebrew Academy, now known as Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, for 16 years before moving to Israel in 2008. “You see Jewish history unfolding and major gut-wrenching issues arising all the time.”

A poll released by Ono Academic College a week before the elections found that more than 51 percent of Israelis planned to vote based on economic issues, while 29 percent would cast their vote based on security concerns.

Field joined the minority of that poll when he voted for Jewish Home, a right-wing party under the leadership of Naftali Bennett, because he said he considers that party to be the most likely to ensure Israel’s safety.

Representing the majority of that poll, those focused on the economy, was Adi Dagan, a 28-year-old working toward a doctorate in social work at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Dagan, who now lives in Tel Aviv and spent two summers at Camp Galil in the Poconos in 2006-07 as an Israeli emissary, said she voted for the Zionist Union party, headed by Isaac Herzog, because “at the end of the day, I value equality. I’m a young person who wants to be able to afford to buy an apartment in the future, I work and I’m a student — that’s who Zionist Union represents.”

While these issues guided Field and Dagan, Teddy Fisher, a 29-year-old engineer working on the Tel Aviv light rail project, offered yet another opinion.

The Boston native, who earned a B.A. in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania before moving to Israel in 2011, said he voted for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party for the second time because of Lapid’s support of liberal Judaism.

“Yesh Atid is one of the few parties that actually has any interest on that issue,” said Fisher, who lives in Rishon LeZion and is one of the founders of Minyan Shivyoni, an egalitarian prayer group based in Tel Aviv. “I know the polls, I know Israelis care about the economy first and security second, but the truth is all the parties are saying the same thing on both issues.”

None of the parties, Fisher argued,  offered a concrete solution to improving the economy or solving the conflict with the Palestinians, “so there’s no real reason to vote based on these issues.”

While all those interviewed differed on who to vote for and why,  they did all agree on one thing — the importance of voting.

“This is the 20th time in 2,000 years we’ve had the opportunity to form our own government, make our own decisions, be responsible for ourselves, and that’s a tremendous privilege that comes with responsibility and consequences,” said Field, who lives in Jerusalem and is close to becoming a licensed tour guide. “I don’t care where you are on the spectrum, but every Israeli should take the opportunity of voting and having his or her voice heard in a democracy like Israel — especially in this part of the world.”

Fisher agreed.

Noting that his father is from Philadelphia and used to read him the Declaration of Independence every Fourth of July, Fisher said, “When Israel has such a live democracy, it’s amazing to vote in a Jewish state when so many people don’t have that right.

“I cried the last time I voted, I managed not to cry this time.”


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