Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Day to Remember

My 11 year old Charedi grandson in Israel is listening to the radio today. This is very unusual since my son does not normally even have a radio in his house. He is listening to a truly a special moment in American history.

As an American and as an Orthodox Jew I must say that I am really proud. Today, Barrack Hussein Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States of America. Anyone watching the inauguration, whether live or via broadcast television will be witnessing a seminal moment in American history. An African American is about to become the leader of the free world. One cannot overestimate the significance of that.

In recent days the media has been going berserk in their coverage. I do not recall anything like it in any of the past inaugurations. I can remember them going all the way back to President Kennedy. You would think that the Messiah has arrived and is about to be anointed. That is pretty much the attitude expressed by the media. Until today I thought it overkill in the extreme and it kind of upset me. But watching the crowds and the pre-inauguration events it hit me why it is being treated that way.

As an American I need not go back too far in history to remember how black people were treated in this country even after slavery was abolished. They were treated as second class citizens at best even as late as the the sixties. Many still are in a sort of a quiet prejudice. At least in some circles.

But one cannot deny the fact that the majority of Americans are not like that today. Certainly not those who voted for him nor most of those - like myself - who voted for his opponent. That says a lot about who we Americans are as a people today. A nation of immigrants who sees not the color of a person's skin at all but the content of his character. Martin Luther King longed for this day and it has arrived. It took a while and - as he semi-prophesied - he did not get there with us. But we did get here.

As an Orthodox Jew, I can easily understand and appreciate the greatness of this country - this Medina Shel Chesed – this nation of loving kindness. No matter who is elected and no matter how different our political ideologies are the one thing that remains constant is the fundemental fairness that is the fabric of this country as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in the constitution – specifically the Bill of Rights. Freedom and equality are principles that have never been questioned if not always properly practiced. And today we see the highest expression of these principles as a black man takes the highest office in the land because that is what the people voted for.

The transition is as smooth and friendly as can be despite the wide ideological differences. President Bush lives up to his reputation of being a gentle and gracious man who wishes the new President well. You can see it in his face – as well as that of the First lady Laura Bush. Two people cannot be more gracious than the outgoing President and First Lady. And you can also see the graciousness and spirit of gratitude on the new President and First Lady’s faces. You would think that these people were the closest of friends and not the bitter enemies that some of the campaign rhetoric led one to believe.

This country is about justice and doing the right thing. It is about the inalienable rights of man. It is about the individual freedom to pursue ones goals whether religious or secular in complete freedom as long as the rights of others are respected and protected. It is not about theology or race or nationalism. It is a country where differences are respected and even appreciated. And it is country where almost anyone can become the President.

My ideological differences with the new President still exist. I still have questions about his foreign policy and how that will affect Israel. I also worry about how his liberal social agenda will affect Supreme Court appointments. And how it will affect the social mores in this country. I am also worried how he will handle an economy that is in the worst shape since the Great Depression.

But today is not the day to worry about any of that. By all accounts President Obama is personally a good and decent man who deserves not only our support - but our respect and admiration as well. He has truly accomplished a remarkable achievement. The significance of this day cannot be over stated. It should be savored by all who benefit from the principles of freedom and democracy upon which this country is based.