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C​rush of People Helps, Hinders Mood in D.C.

January 22, 2009 By:
Aaron Passman, JE Feature
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — When the buses left around four in the morning, most people were only sure of two things -- that lines would be long, and it would be cold.

Among the lines, the craziness, the crowds and the festive environment, the 56th presidential inauguration often felt like a trip to Disneyland -- only the theme park was the nation's capitol and, instead of rides, visitors got to stand outside in freezing temperatures and watch history unfold.

A number of local groups with ties to Philadelphia's Jewish community attended the event, including a bus led by David Broida, a Lower Merion Democratic committeeman. By the time Broida's bus pulled into Maryland's Greenbelt Metro Station, the venue was already swarmed with lines -- and all this was well before dawn.

"The crowds were slow," said Broida. "It took us from 4:20 to 6:20 to get to Greenbelt station, and then from Greenbelt, it took from 6:20 to 8:40 to get to the subway" -- and that's before going through security at the swearing-in itself. But those who used the Metro got a souvenir of sorts: a commemorative day pass emblazoned with the new president's face.

Downtown, impromptu salespeople hocked nearly every imaginable piece of Obama memorabilia on street corners. Confusion reigned during the morning, as millions of people streamed into the city -- many with only the faintest idea of what to do or where to go, and security forces struggling to keep crowds calm and move people peacefully in the right direction.

Though Broida had tickets to the swearing-in, he and a friend decided to stand on the National Mall and watch the ceremonies on the Jumbotrons, rather than brave the crowds in the ticketed space.

"There were just a million people everywhere, so we decided to go towards the Lincoln Memorial and just fit in wherever worked for us," said Broida, who ended up with a spot between the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool. "It wasn't bad, really. We were so psyched for the day that we'd put up with anything."

First-Time Voter

While many local Jews schlepped down to Washington for the day, many did so individually or in small groups. A bus from Congregation Mishkan Shalom was one of the only other organized trips of Jews from the Philadelphia region.

This election was the first time that Madeline Glickman had been old enough to vote, and the University of Pennsylvania freshman not only cast her ballot for Obama, but attended the swearing-in as well.

"It wasn't bad for us," she said of the lines and the crowds. "We were early, so for us, everything went smoothly. But there were really long lines. I think a lot of the people after us didn't get in."

Glickman -- along with her sister, a former Obama staffer who secured the tickets -- stood in a ticketed section about 300 meters from the Capitol, she said.

"It was an amazing historical moment," she gushed, adding that she hopes Obama will "put a new face to our country. I'm really excited we have Barack Hussein Obama, because that has to help foreign relations."

But while many local Jews participated in inaugural events, not everyone was lucky enough to make it to the swearing-in itself, though not for lack of trying.

Tasha Vigoda, an employee of Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, had planned to attend the swearing-in ceremony as a guest of Martin Kaye, who had been a paid Obama staffer during the campaign. Unfortunately, said Vigoda, she was unable to actually make it in to the area reserved for ticket-holders, because of the massive crowds.

"We drove to D.C., stood in line for four hours, and we couldn't get in," she said. "At 11:30, we were told we could stay, but there was no way we were going to get in" because of the crush of people. Vigoda and Kaye weren't entirely out of luck, however -- the pair had plans to attend an inaugural party for the new president's campaign staff the following night.

In the end it, was worth it, most said, if only to say they were there.

"I'm glad I did it for the obvious reasons," said Mishkan Shalom managing director Tod Gibbs. "But I'm also glad I came -- so I never have to do it again."

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