Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Charedi Rabbi's Diary of Israel's First Knesset Election

Rabbi Moshe Yekutiel Alpert lived from 1917 until 1955, and was a teacher in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem. His father had immigrated to Eretz Yisrael from Slonim, in Belarus, in 1860. He was an active member of Agudath Yisrael, and therefore may be assumed to have been a "charedi," or fervently orthodox, Jew, such as the Israeli gentleman voting in the photo above left. These are the Jews who are so frequently and inaccurately stereotyped as "anti-Zionist." The following is the entry from Rabbi Alpert's diary for the 24th of Teveth, 5709*, which would be January 25, 1949 on the civil calendar, the day of Israel's first Knesset election following its independence:

At 5:35 A.M. my wife and I got up early, as did my brother, Reb Shimon Lev, my brother-in-law, Reb Netanel Sleduchin and my son Dov. After we drank a quick cup of coffee we dressed in our Shabbat clothes in honor of this great and holy day for which we recite: “This is the day proclaimed by G-d; let us rejoice and be happy”. After 2,000 years of Exile, actually since the six days of Creation, we have never had an opportunity as today—that we can go and vote in a Jewish State. Blessed be He that He has enabled us to live to see this day. My son, Dov, left the house at 5:45 A.M. and went off wherever he went, because he’s a big supporter of the Herut Party, and he didn’t return all day and all night.

My wife and I and my brother and brother-in-law went to the voting station of District l0, in the Hapoel Hamizrachi Building on Habashim Street, holding our State of Israel issued Identity Card in our hands. We walked the short distance from our house to the poll with great joy. We were currently living downstairs from the Dvasha Goldsmidt family in Batei Wittenberg since our house in Beit Yisrael had been hit by a rocket and was being repaired. That’s why we were assigned to vote at this station, rather than the one in Beit Yisrael.

All the way to the polling station I felt like on Simchat Torah when we dance with the Torah (during the Hakafot), but instead of a Scroll I held my Israeli Identity Card in my hand. You can’t imagine the happiness and joy I felt. At 5:50 A.M. we came to the Hapoel Hamizrachi building. We were the first ones there. Only the janitor was there, and the light were on. I asked the janitor, “Where are the polling officials? They haven’t arrived yet?” We waited until 5:54 A.M. Two members of the committee arrived. At 6:02 the chairman finally came, Mr. ----- a lawyer. I complained that he didn’t come on time because by law the polling station was supposed to be open from 6:00 A.M. The chairman apologized.

Then he announced since there was a quorum, the two committee members, an observer from Herut and himself, they could begin to work. The janitor brought the ballot box and the chairman then called me and my brother over to give honor to the elderly and asked us to witness the fact that the box was empty and observe its sealing. This was recorded in the protocol where he wrote, “I, the chairman, arrived at 6:00 A.M. (which isn’t true because we came at 5:50 and he only got there at 6:02), and at 6:23 we opened the proceedings.” The chairman said since I’m the oldest person there I would have the privilege of being the first voter.

Quivering with emotion of awe and sanctity I gave the chairman my Identity Card. He read out my name from the I.D. card and the deputy chairman wrote it on the voters list in front of him as number one. He gave me an envelope and I went into the closed off area where all the party letters were placed. With a shaking hand and a feeling of holiness I chose a note marked “Bet”, the United Religious parties’ letter, placed it carefully in the envelope and returned to the polling station. I showed them all that I only had one envelope in my hand, and then, at the moment of greatest exhilaration in my life, a moment that neither my father, nor my grandfather, nor any of my ancestors experienced, (only I had the privilege), I recited the Shechiyanu blessing and carefully placed the envelope in the ballot box. “Blessed am I and blessed is my portion!” I shook the chairman’s hand heartily and the other committee members’ hands too and went out. I waited for my wife, my brother and brother-in-law and at 6:28 we left. I went off to pray and my wife went home. A great holiday indeed!

I cannot imagine a more fervent and inspiring expression of civic pride and love for the newborn State of Israel. I pray that I should have a fraction of the same hekeret hatov, recognition of the blessings God has bestowed upon me by allowing me to be a citizen of the United States, every time that I vote.

Source: Leah Abraomowitz at the Orthodox Union Shabbat Shalom website.

*The Hebrew date for the diary entry given in the title above the entry says, "FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2,000 YEARS THE ELECTIONS FOR ISRAEL’S FIRST KNESSET TOOK PLACE, ON THE 14TH OF TEVETH, 25/1/49." However, January 25, 1949 was the date of Israel's first Knesset election, and that civil calendar date corresponds to the Hebrew calendar date 24 Teveth, 5709, not 14 Teveth.


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