Southern California Jewish Republicans saw history up close at President Bush's inauguration, attending not only his swearing-in but numerous social events including a pre-inauguration dinner for the president where a local Chabad rabbi lit the candles
"I was shocked at how many Jews were here," said Studio City CPA and Bush/Cheney campaign fundraiser Bruce Bialosky, who created the Los Angeles chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition. (RJC)
R.J.C. Executive Director Matthew Brooks said an overflow crowd of several-hundred Jewish Republicans and their spouses attended the group's Jan. 19 party at Washington's Hay-Adams Hotel, its rooftop becoming a perfect spot to watch that day's preinauguration fireworks.
"There was a real openness towards the Jewish community, a real welcoming of the Jewish community and Jews were included [in everything] from the candle lighting to the themes the president echoed in his inaugural address," Brooks said. "It really was just a hamish week."
Among those in attendance were Israeli ambassador Daniel Ayalon; Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.); Ed Atsinger, president of Camarillo-based Salem Communications; national RJC board members Elliott Broidy and Mark Siegel, L.A. Drs. Phil Kurzner and Joel Geiderman; former RJCLA chapter director Scott Gluck; current RJCLA director Larry Greenfield; Persian community leader Sam Kermanian; and Santa Monica dentist Dr. Joel Strom.
"I was amazed at how smoothly everything went; it was like security was almost never there," Strom said of the inauguration itself. "There really was like a mission accomplished feeling; let's deal with reforming Social Security, let's complete the Iraq front on the war on terrorism, let's deal with tort reform."
Away from GOP partying, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) spoke at a post-inaugural, bipartisan comedy night at Washington's Warner Theater, where he told matzah jokes about his pre-Congress adventures fighting California's mid-1990s "snack tax."
Strom, Bialosky and their spouses were invited to a post-inauguration elite congressional ball at the Library of Congress. Once there, they were invited back to a meeting room reserved only for members of Congress, where they met Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
"I met Rummy," Bialosky said. "The man couldn't have been nicer. [My wife] Teri said to him, 'We really appreciate everything you've done,' and he said, 'I'd like to tell you that it's easy, but it's not.' He showed a level of confidence and security, but it wasn't cockiness."
Meeting Rumsfeld capped off an emotional day for Bialosky as he attended his second inauguration. His seat found him in a center-right area below Bush, ex-presidents and congressional leaders. He said he felt captivated by Bush's speech and its emphasis on America being a force for freedom and against tyranny.
"It's the best speech I have ever heard in my life," he said. "It was overwhelmingly emotional to me. It was what was being said; this was the definition of the next stage of the American being. I think it was an historic day in America. He laid out what the meaning of America is for the 21st century, that is to bring democracy and freedom to the rest of the world."
"It moved me," Bialosky said. "This is what I've lived for -- freedom and democracy."
The RJC's Brooks said the president's call to export freedom and democracy has "real implications for Jewish people everywhere who face the continuing threat of anti-Semitism around the globe. When tyranny has been around, Jews have always been victimized by it."
Nationally, the RJC has grown from 9,000 to 17,000 members in the past year, with 25 percent of Jews voting for Bush in 2004 compared to 19 percent four years earlier.
"It will become clearer and clearer that the Jewish community can continue to feel comfortable within the Republican Party," Brooks said. "There are looming clouds on the horizon that will give the Jewish community pause about their continuing to be welcomed in the Democratic Party."
Entering the cavernous, post-inaugural "Democracy Ball" at the Washington Convention Center was child Holocaust survivor and New York hotel developer Moses Fried, 75.
"When I came to the United States I registered as a Democrat," Fried said. "I'm still registered as a Democrat but I've been voting for the past 30 years as a Republican."
It was the first inauguration for Tarzana psychologist Richard Sherman, the RJCLA's chapter president.
"When Bush talked about the freedom, I think it reaffirmed democratic countries and in my mind reaffirmed his support for Israel," Sherman said. "Regardless of the political party in office, it was just very exciting to be here."