Turns out I was correct in my final Aliyah Diary column (“Fifth ‘aliyaversary’ becomes the new normal,” Oct. 12) when I predicted that I would have more to report about our lives in Israel.
Hence my first installment of “Letters from Israel,” which picks up where our five-year settling-in process from Teaneck to Ma’aleh Adumim ended.
It was not the arrival of our third Jerusalemite grandchild in October, nor November’s Operation Pillar of Defense, that moved me to put fingers to keys – although both of these events certainly are worthy of commentary. The muse struck instead as I waited to vote for my favored Likud Party candidates.
You may have heard that the Nov. 25 primary election turned into a two-day affair thanks to massive computer glitches caused by (a) hackers; (b) the party failing to pony up enough shekels for proper bandwidth; (c) poor planning on the part of the responsible service provider; or (d) God’s enduring sense of humor. I will leave it to the lawyers to figure out where to place the blame.
An unwieldy 97 candidates were competing for about 25 Likud seats in the 19th Knesset, and 125,351 party members were eligible to vote for the 12 hopefuls of their choosing.
Before every election, Likud candidates flood members with SMS texts and automated phone calls. Our cellphones pinged all day long for weeks. When we picked up the ringing land line during dinner, the voice on the other end was often a party hack rather than our grandchildren wanting to say “night-night.” My list of 12 bore no relation to those annoying communiquÃ©s.
Steve dubbed the evening of Nov. 25 “Dinner and Democracy Night.” Lists in hand, we took an invigorating two-mile walk to the polling station – a local event venue – and a restaurant in the mall next door.
The last time we’d voted, I had gone ahead of Steve and called to instruct him to find the “L” table (for Leichman). This well-intended piece of advice has become a family joke, as there is no “L” in the Hebrew alphabet. Whoops, I meant “Lamed.”
We knew that in Jerusalem that day, hundreds of voters waited for hours due to malfunctioning voting machines. Many others gave up and left. When we arrived at the Ma’aleh Adumim event hall, we walked through the gauntlet of campaign workers to a short line where a woman with a clipboard was taking names. Because of the computer problems, our turn was about an hour away. So dinner came before democracy.
With bellies full of the hearty Aroma cafÃ© fare, we returned an hour later and we were called within minutes. There were no alphabetically arranged tables this time. We were assigned to a cluster of two voting stations consisting of laptops shielded by Likud-blue cardboard screens. The nice ladies who took our ID cards (they agreed to take my driver’s license as I discovered in a panic that my all-important ID card was missing) directed me to Station 1 and Steve to Station 2.
So far so good. When Station 1 finally booted up, I followed the simple instructions and chose my 12 candidates. On the next screen, headshots of each of my choices appeared, and I could finalize my vote or go back and make changes. It was all pretty high tech, a far cry from the pieces of paper we deposited in envelopes during the last election.
Alas, slips of paper would have proved much more efficient. Station 2’s laptop never registered Steve’s choices, and no amount of prodding by the house techie could get it moving. Steve joked in Hebrew to the frazzled, apologetic poll-watcher ladies that the venue’s bar should have been open for both voters and volunteers. A little booze might have put a humorous spin on the scenario that was playing out at voting stations all across the room.
Eventually, a pantsuited and ponytailed young female Likud official informed Steve that he’d have to come back the next day. Even without a glass of wine, we had a good laugh and walked back through the gantlet out into the cool night air for our walk home.
Possibly the worst part of this fiasco was that it prolonged by 24 hours the punishing procession of text messages and phone calls. Two times I picked up the phone to hear Bibi Netanyahu’s recorded baritone apologizing for the glitch and reminding me of the extended voting hours. Many of the 97 candidates bombarded my Nokia in renewed pleas for my vote.
But I do have some good news about Israeli bureaucratic efficiency. The next morning I was at the local Interior Department branch to apply for a replacement ID. There was nobody on line. I filled out a form, paid 115 shekels, got my picture taken, and signed the receipt. Within 10 minutes my new te’udat zehut was in my bag. Will somebody at Likud headquarters kindly call these folks for some pointers?