Inside or Out, It’s Gonna Be Quite a Celebration

In myriad ways, a number of Jewish area residents are getting set to take part in the inaugural festivities, either in the nation's capital — where huge crowds and frigid temperatures are expected — or much closer to home.

"I don't care how cold it is. I won't even notice if it's cold or raining. There is just an awesomeness and a grandeur about this, and it should not be missed," said Mark Aronchick, a Center City lawyer who serves as the state finance chair for the Democratic National Committee.

Once a huge Hillary Clinton supporter and fundraiser, Aronchick threw all his weight behind Barack Obama once the nominating battle was finished.

In addition to the official swearing-in-ceremony, Aronchick and his wife Judith — along with a number of other Jewish political insiders from the region — also plan to attend the "Home States Ball" on Tuesday night for friends and supporters of vice-president-elect Joe Biden. That ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is one of 10 official inaugural galas.

Festivities in D.C. are stretching across four days. On the eve of inauguration, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party is sponsoring a "Yes We Did!" at the Washington Plaza Hotels. The National Jewish Democratic Council is also holding several events on Sunday, and a plethora of Jewish organizations are planning a Monday gathering with a yet-to-be announced guest speaker.

Lingering in the backdrop of the celebration of a new era in American politics is a staggering economy at home and war abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now with Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

"I think there will be a mood of cautious celebration of all that Obama represents … but it's very much tempered by the concerns that people have about domestic issues, as well the situation in the Middle East," said Betsy Sheerr, a political activist attending several of the inaugural events. (Sheerr sits on the board of the Jewish Publishing Group.)

The Presidential Inaugural Committee invited Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, to the swearing-in ceremony and the National Prayer Service the next day at the Washington National Cathedral.

Ehrenkrantz, noted that he considers himself a representative of the Jewish community at the event.

"By having a moment where the country comes together in a way where we can celebrate the peaceful transition to New Leadership, it does point to the cohesiveness and the strength of our democracy," said Ehrenkrantz,.

Rabbi Leonard Gordan of Germantown Jewish Centre also plans to attend the National Prayer Service.

Several elected officials seemed equally excited for the occasion. Rachel Magnuson, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-District 13), said that she was "honored as a member of Congress to have a front row to history."

Her Jenkintown office is hosting a public screening of the ceremony at the Hiway Theater (for information, call 215-517-6572).

State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-District 153), an early and ardent Obama backer, said that he and wife Lori are planning to attend the ceremony and Home States Ball. But since she is approaching the end of her pregnancy and nearing her due date, the plans are far from certain.

"I think the mood will be hopeful and optimistic, but at the same time, somber," said Shapiro.

Wayne Kimmel, who runs a venture capital firm and is a board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, is co-hosting a private Sunday brunch in honor of Biden.

Federation CEO Ira M. Schwartz plans to go to Washington for the day for the brunch, though he stressed that it's in a nonpartisan capacity.

Many people without official tickets are planning to jam the National Mall just to be part of the day's action.

For example, Congregation Mishkan Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Roxborough, has rented a bus for the trip. More than 50 people are expected to leave the synagogue at 4 a.m. for a chance to witness history — in the cold, via Jumbotron.

"We were such Obama supporters here in this shul. Once he won, we wanted to go down and be a part of it," said Tod Gibbs, managing director at Mishkan.

Yet many more are choosing to avoid the crowds and take in the moment from the comfort of home, or at least indoors.

For the residents of the Brith Sholom House in Philadelphia — an apartment building for independent seniors where the average age is the high 80s — making the trek to the National Mall wasn't really an option.

So Michael Schaeffer, a social worker with the Jewish Family and Children's Service, decided to organize an inaugural ball right on the premises, complete with big-screen television followed by a gala with an orchestra and large dance floor.

"They are passionate about their politics here," said Schaeffer.

Irene Paul, an 81-year-old resident who helped plan the gala, said that "we are all under one roof here. We're like a big family, and we should be together for this big event." 



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