Elie was born in the United States and came to Israel at age 6. His first language was English and he speaks it quite well, but his mother tongue is probably Hebrew in many ways. It is the language he uses to converse with his friends and his siblings. It is the language in which he dreams and the language in which he thinks most often.
Now, standing on the check point, he often uses English to communicate with some of the Arabs who don’t know how (or do not want) to speak in Hebrew. No problem. Elie steps up, speak to me in English, he tells them. During the last presidential elections 4 years ago, Elie was 17 years old and voting wasn’t an issue. Now, at age 21, he faces his first opportunity to vote in the United States elections. For all that he is an Israeli soldier; he is also an American citizen. I believe that although I have raised him to call Israel his home, he understands that there remains a connection with the country of his birth.
He will vote because that is the way we have raised him. The right to vote is what sets us apart from so many other nations. With this single act, we celebrate our freedom and tell others our opinion. Listen to me, the vote says, I have a right to my stand and here I make it. This is the person I choose to represent me.
We downloaded the forms for Elie to sign, filled out his social security and his last address in America. It’s a house he still remembers. The big backyard, the blue siding of the house. The river that ran in the woods far behind the house. I keep his social security card along with his birth certificate and those of his older sister and middle brother in a special binder on the shelf. I pulled this down to get the numbers and with it found not only the birth certificates, but the footprints taken in the moments after they were born.
Those tiny feet, along with my right thumbprint, were placed on the “certificates” and given to me when I was discharged from the hospital. My older three children sat and laughed about who had the fatter foot, the smaller one. It was all so funny until one asked why they don’t do the same thing here and that’s when reality hit.
“They don’t steal babies in Israel,” I blurted out without thinking.
That was the reason my baby’s footprint was put on the paper. Maybe it was less sinister. Maybe it was because they were afraid of confusing the infants in the nursery, despite the wrist bands placed on each child in the delivery room. But deep down, I always believed, always feared. It is any parent’s greatest nightmare and it was with great joy I left that fear behind in America.
Whatever the reason, I don’t have footprints for the two children born in Israel. After we’d completed the forms and joked about the footprints, we put the social security cards and the birth certificates back up on the shelf. Elie filed his petition to vote in the upcoming elections and will now consider his options. He doesn’t live in the United States and most likely never will.
There is the American economy. This is an important factor, even for those of us who live in Israel. When the American economy starts to go bad, the impact is felt far away, here in Israel and all around the world.
There is the issue of social rights and responsibilities. Elie knows little of this and cannot understand even more. Our country provides health care for all its citizens. A doctor is a call away and a swipe of a card from our national health insurance. The visit costs less than $2.00 and for Elie, as part of his national service, costs nothing. The army sees to all his medical needs, though we insisted on taking him to our local doctor at one point and to the dentist at a different time. Elie cannot weigh who would be better for social issues in America.
Elie was raised to accept people as they are, no matter what country they come from, what language they speak, or the color of their skin. The only hesitation he has is one born of need. Elie grew up at a time when buses and malls were blowing up constantly in our country and though this has been dramatically reduced since we built the security fence, Elie and his unit can tell you that we are by no means safe from terrorist attacks (It could have been Elie).
And so Elie and all my children know to watch who gets on the bus, who enters the café. Are they dressed in such a way that they could be hiding an explosives belt? Do they make you nervous? Get off the bus. I’ll pay for another one. Get off the bus.
This issue of social rights, ironically, blends with the most important issue for us. Security and the need to be strong against terrorism. These are especially important in a country like Israel, but also an important factor in all free countries because freedom and democracy pose the greatest threat to our enemies. They use religious coercion and domination as the weapons of their battle and standing up for the values we in Israel support is important.
We are a democratic country; so much so, we allow our enemies into our government and from the podium of our parliament, they have the freedom to call for policies that would destroy us.
Our current enemies, those who pose the most immediate threat lie to our north, where Elie was stationed for several months. This is Hizbollah land, where according to their leader Hassan Nasrallah, “We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.”
Our enemies lie to the northeast. This is Syria. Elie spent many months on the Golan Heights, including some tense days waiting to see how the Syrians would react after Israel sent planes to destroy a building widely believed to be the beginnings of a nuclear reactor. Elie will vote for the man who takes the threat of Syria seriously.
Our enemies lie further to the east. This is Iran, led by a madman who promises that he will do all he can to accomplish in minutes more than what Adolf Hitler accomplished in six years of war. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made it clear in words and actions that he is after a nuclear bomb and that his goal is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Believe him.
Elie will vote for the man least likely to allow this horror to happen. And our enemies lie in many places over the face of the earth. Some are active in their hatred of Israel, others comfortable in their complacency. Elie, like all Jews living in Israel, must think long and hard before making his choice for the next American president, but one key element will be the man’s knowledge of the threats we face and his commitment to our security and our future.
Elie, like most Jews living in Israel, will vote for someone who will stand firm against Iran and understand the dangers we face and are likely to face in the future. Elie has never voted before – except in one small local election that had little real impact on more than one political party’s internal listing. He’s been “old enough” to carry a gun and defend this country for some time and has worn the uniform of his adopted country with pride and honor.
He’ll vote in the elections for the highest office in the country of his birth, as is his right, because be believes that a strong Israel makes an important ally for the United States and because a strong America makes an important ally for Israel. And Elie understands, after more than a year in the army of Israel, that those who seek to destroy the foundations of democracy and freedom started their war on our shores and took them to the United States many years ago.
What starts in Israel, often shakes the rest of the world in its own time. That’s the truth of 9/11, that’s the truth of the Iranian threat, and that’s the truth of what is at stake in the US elections.