An American Voter in Jerusalem

Rachel Petroff Kessler
January 19, 2012
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I was studying abroad at Hebrew University when Bush bested Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election. A Brandeis alumna living in the neighborhood of French Hill (near the University’s Mt. Scopus campus) graciously opened up her home to Brandeis students to watch the returns come in. And so I tagged along as we got up before dawn to watch the returns come in. A missing signature on my absentee ballot request form, discovered too late to rectify, had kept me from voting and though it was no surprise, I felt some measure of guilt dissipate upon learning that New York State went blue.

We were convinced that Bush could not possible win a second term in office, and reacted with the naiveté and righteous anger of the young when it seemed the tide was turning in the other direction. We had to go to class before the final results were in, throughout the day kept holding out hope that the swing states would turn Kerry, and finally coming to terms with the fact that our incumbent President would be serving another term.

Unlike most of my American classmates, however, the majority of the Israelis I spoke to were thrilled with the Republican victory. This trend continued in conversation before and after Obama’s presidential victory. From cab drivers to shop keepers, Israeli Jews seemed convinced that the Republican candidate would better support the State of Israel than a Democratic candidate would. They also assumed that as a Jew, the primary issue on my mind when approaching the ballot box would be support for the Jewish State. Trying to explain that I voted (or, as was the case up to that point, voiced support for candidates) not only as a Jew, but also as an American, with concern for domestic issues as well as foreign policy was met with incredulity and argumentation.

As a Jew I support the state of Israel, but as an American I feel an obligation to support the candidate who I believe will be the best leader of the country in which I was born and in which I live. Lucky for me, those two facets of my identity: Jew and American, Israeli-supporter and citizen, are generally not in conflict at the polls. As multiple articles in Sh’ma make clear, support for Israel crosses party lines in American politics. Combine that with my opinion that indiscriminately backing all choices made by the Israeli government isn’t the best kind of support Americans can offer, and I don’t feel as if I have to make any sacrifices (at least when it comes to my Jewish/American identity) when participating in the American political system.

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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