Revelers in Washington will have plenty of places to celebrate Barack Obama’s swearing-in, including an event organized by some leading Jewish organizations and a trio of unofficial Jewish inaugural balls.
The biggest bash of inaugural weekend will be the Jewish Community Inaugural Reception on Jan. 19 at a downtown hotel. Along with the kosher hors d’oeuvres and drinks, the event is slated to feature a visit from a top-ranking Obama administration official, to be announced.
A portion of tickets to the 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. event will be distributed to those affiliated with the nine sponsoring organizations – the National Jewish Democratic Council, United Jewish Communities, AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, and the Chicago, New York, and Washington federations – as well as some Jewish activists who volunteered on the Obama campaign.
The rest of the tickets to the 750-person capacity reception will be made available to the public for free on a first-come, first-served basis via registration at the Website http://inauguralreception.eventbrite.com.
William Daroff, the director of the UJC’s Washington office, said the sponsors wanted to make sure that the event was not just a gathering of Jewish leaders but was open also to those who are not connected to any organization.
“It’s a celebration of the Jewish-American role” in the United States as well as “the role that Jewish organizations play in civic life,” Daroff said.
Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, stressed that the event is a nonpartisan celebration and open to all.
The reception is not an official inaugural event, but prominent Obama supporters encouraged Jewish communal leaders – as it did with leaders of other ethnic groups – to privately sponsor such a gathering.
Those unable to snag a ticket to the official Jewish event have a number of other Jewish-themed options.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is expecting 300 to 400 people Sunday night at his Washington synagogue, Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue, for what he is calling the National Jewish Inaugural Ball. It will feature klezmer music, dessert, and a cash bar. Herzfeld has assembled an eclectic list of confirmed guests, including filmmaker Aviva Kempner, Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver, and Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr.
Also on the list are high-powered area defense attorneys Abbe Lowell, who represented convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and Bill Martin, who represented former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, along with Martin’s wife, NPR host Michel Martin. Former New York Knicks player John Starks is slated to come with his friend Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of New York.
Herzfeld said the ball is an opportunity for people to get together on a historic occasion in a “Jewish way.”
“There’s a lot of energy in the air, and it’s great to have the synagogue be a part of that energy,” said Herzfeld, who noted that any proceeds of the ball will go to Ohev Sholom.
“It’s a great opportunity to connect and gather together in unity,” he said, adding that whether one is Republican or Democrat, “we have one president” and “we need it to work.”
The next night, across the street from Ohev Sholom, the new pro-Obama Jewish Grassroots Action Network will hold its ball at Tifereth Israel Congregation.
The ball, which will feature klezmer music and a kosher dinner, is the culmination of a weekend of events put together by the network, which developed out of a national Jews for Obama group that formed during the campaign. The group’s Shabbaton on Friday evening and Saturday will include a discussion on the roots of Jewish activism in Judaism, and on Sunday and Monday the organization is sponsoring a workshop entitled “Jewish Grassroots Lessons Learned from the Obama Campaign and Charting the Road Ahead.”
The network’s president, Yocheved Seidman, said the new organization is a Jewish version of the grass-roots structure that the Obama campaign has been creating since the election to help support the president-elect’s agenda. She said that members, who range from the unaffiliated to Orthodox Jews, “don’t all agree on controversial issues but agreed on supporting Obama as the best choice for president.”
“We thought staying together and working across these divisions would be a living example of what” Obama accomplished, she said.
Seidman said the workshop will be an opportunity to formulate an action plan and discuss issues on which the group will focus.
Those looking for an early start Monday can hit the $100-per-ticket breakfast being co-hosted by the National Jewish Democratic Council and the pro-Israel lobby J Street. The event is expected to feature appearances by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Obama-Biden transition team co-chairman John Podesta.
Forman of the NJDC said his organization disagrees with J Street over its recent criticism of Israel’s operation in Gaza, but that he’s “not in the business of making pariahs out of fellow Jewish organizations.”
“We sponsor events with a broad range of groups,” he said, noting that his organization is co-sponsoring the major Jewish community inaugural event with AIPAC.
Finally, for young adults who don’t have tickets to any of the official inaugural balls on Jan. 20, the Washington DCJCC is holding “The Inaugural Ball for the Rest of Us.” The event, geared toward 21- to 35-year-olds, will include a performance by actor/comedian Iris Bahr – she played the Orthodox Jewish woman from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with whom Larry David got stuck on a ski lift – as well as a DJ, dancing, hors d’oeuvres, and an open bar.
“We wanted to give the young Jewish community a place to celebrate,” said Jenna Ebert, the director of EntryPointDC GesherCity, who added that the event is hoping to attract out-of-town visitors as well.
Other Jewish events over the weekend include a Havdalah service and panel discussion with some “Jewish Justice All-Stars” sponsored by Jews United for Justice and the American Jewish World Service-Avodah Patnership. The panel includes Ronit Avni, the founder of Just Vision, which supports Israeli and Palestinian nonviolent civic peace builders through media and education; Ben Brandzel, formerly of MoveOn.org and now an online organizing consultant for liberal organizations; and Saul Garlick, the founder of Student Movement for Real Change, which works on international development.
For those who wish they were in Washington but will be in New York, the AJWS-Avodah Partnership, along with the New Israel Fund and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is sponsoring an inauguration celebration at SOB’s in Manhattan on Jan. 20. Guests that night will watch footage from Obama’s speech and swearing-in from earlier in the day and celebrate.