Oh, For the Days of the Party Boss and the Back-Room Deal!

Haim Watzman

There was a membership meeting at shul Saturday night to discuss plans to finish our building’s unfinished basement. A well-meaning, socially-concerned member (true, those labels apply to pretty much everyone in Kehilat Yedidya ) suggested that democratic procedures required that we poll the entire community, asking each and every member whether they favor or oppose the proposal.

If you’ve ever been involved in synagogue governance, or served on a PTA board, or tried to run any other organization, no matter how mundane, you’ll know why I started turning red. You work together with other concerned members and, through a process of study and deliberation, weigh various options, compromise between opposing views, and put together the best plan you can. Then you bring it before the membership and everyone becomes a partisan and wants to go back to square one. If the meeting isn’t well-managed, all your work is for naught.

How anti-democratic of me! I’ve been accused of precisely such dictatorial tendencies on several occasions during my life. But my socially-concerned, democratically-committed fellow-Yedidyan was wrong. In properly-functioning democracies, not everyone gets to decide everything. And an overdose of public involvement can in fact subvert true democratic process. It’s just such a surfeit of democratic politics that has turned Israel into a nearly non-functioning democracy in recent years, and led to a situation where Israelis will be presented in February with a choice of notably mediocre candidates for its legislature.

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