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January 22, 2013

L.A. activist attending Obama's inauguration finds Jewish values in week's festivities

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/los_angeles_activist_attending_obamas_inauguration_finds_jewish_values_in_w

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama during the inaugural parade from the Capitol to the White House in Washington on Jan. 21. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama during the inaugural parade from the Capitol to the White House in Washington on Jan. 21. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

The chill in the D.C. air never seems to diminish the warmth and excitement from a presidential inauguration. 2013 was no different, but it also felt uniquely Jewish.

As a college student and law student in Washington DC, and later as an activist from California, I’ve attended five inaugurations since 1989.   But this year in particular felt Like a family coming together after feuding, with Republicans and Democrats attending the celebration of American democracy, sitting down and breaking bread together at receptions, dinners, lunches and Inaugural balls and galas.

The 2012 Presidential election was one of the most divisive for the Jewish community in decades, but the clamor did not seem to extend to the week of festivities.  Attempts to partisanize s support for Israel was soundly rebuked this election cycle and such comments were nowhere to be found this week. .

If anything, people seem to be coming together.   The furor over the nomination of former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense seems to have faded with his endorsement by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and recent meetings with Jewish community leaders at the White House, where he had the chance to explain how the current situation in Iran, Syria , Egypt and Gaza has made his views evolve into more mainstream positions.  

At a breakfast for Jewish women put together by the National Jewish Democratic Council, the focus was on more domestic issues.  Congresswoman Susan Davis of San Diego and former Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Ann Lewis exhorted more women to get involved in politics and take leadership positions to ensure that issues of equality and access to reproductive health care stay at the forefront.  

With the economy still in recovery, the parties were smaller.   There were only two official Inaugural Balls (military and public) instead of the 10 that were in 2009.    The California Democratic Party’s event was held with 500 attendees in a hotel, compared with the thousands that attended the event at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 2009.   New California members of Congress Jared Huffman, Alan Lowenthal, Ami Bera and Scott Peters  (Peters and Lowenthal are Jewish) and more familiar faces such as Brad Sherman and John Garamendi added to the lineup of politicians in attendance.    There was also a job fair for Obama staff alumni with local non-profits, political consultants and technology companies to help those that put their lives on hold for months to find new opportunities and several small receptions where I saw California Republican Congressman Ed Royce, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, newly elected California Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod .

Jewish themes ran throughout the weekend.   Saturday was a national day of service, with projects from DC to Los Angeles, helping fix up the community.  President Obama’s inauguration speech also had themes that reflected Jewish values,

President Obama said, “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.” 

Some may argue that the President’s speech was a defense of liberalism.   To me, I heard in those words a defense of the “Tikkun Olam” concept that when Americans create opportunity for those that don’t have access to such changes, it raises all of us up, and when we deny equality and dignity to one human being, it hurts us all.

He reminded us that our duty was to fight for equality and liberty. While the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness may be self evident, they have rarely been self executing.

I grew up and went to college in the Washington DC area, so it was a great chance to see friends and share pictures of my new daughter, with family and friends who I had not seen since she was born (which also felt very Jewish), but what I saw throughout this week was a very Jewish notion: The start of a natural healing process of every party, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and ethnicity to come together as an “American family” to face the challenges of the next four years led by President Barack Obama, who is now the President for all of us.


Andrew Lachman is President Emeritus of Democrats for Israel and a member of the Democratic National Committee.

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