WASHINGTON (Jan. 20)
Two parts celebration, two parts work and one part learning came together this week as Jewish Democrats prepared to walk with President Clinton across the bridge to the 21st century.
From gala parties with lavish spreads for the big givers to free events on the National Mall, visitors and Washington residents alike transformed the nation’s capital into one big party.
Braving subfreezing temperatures, many activists began their celebrations at a reception honoring Jewish members of the Clinton team.
Dignitaries from Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat gathered at the newly renovated District of Columbia Jewish Community Center to kick off their inaugural bash.
Even as guests focused on Clinton’s second term, current events and the 1998 elections crept to the fore as more than 350 activists noshed on lox and kugel.
“Welcome to Super Sunday,” David Hermelin said jokingly. He is a senior member of the Clinton-Gore Jewish Leadership Council, which sponsored the gathering.
“All I want to say is separate checks,” he continued, in a reference to maximizing giving under campaign finance laws.
The breakfast party included many calls for continued activism.
Glickman asked “every organization, every Jewish organization to take another step forward to outreach to Jews.”
This prompted Dr. Ruth Westheimer to take the microphone.
“When you talk about outreach, I want every person here who’s not married, never been married or divorced to find someone and let me know, OK?”
Only some of the guests followed the famed sex therapist’s next call to hug the people next to them.
On a more serious note, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger turned to recent developments in the Middle East.
“We meet today for a second inaugural having had four of the most productive years in the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Berger called last week’s agreement to transfer most of Hebron to Palestinian self-rule “a very significant and important step forward in the peace process.”
Berger hailed the Jewish Democrats for supporting Clinton.
“This group knows that it played a very big role in the successful re-election of the president,” he said.
In another impromptu briefing, Eizenstat, assigned by the president to work on restitution of Jewish property, told the gathering, “We’re going to continue to focus the spotlight” on restitution issues to “close the last sad chapter of World War II in a way that this community and the American population will be proud of this administration.”
When the partying was done, many of the hosts turned to the business of informally raising money for the 1998 congressional campaign.
“I started raising money for 1998 the day after the election,” said Monte Friedkin, national chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council and a leader in recruiting support for the Clinton-Gore campaign.
This prompted Stan Chesley, another Jewish leader for Clinton-Gore to add, “If we rest, we should be ashamed of ourselves. There are too many issues for Jews in America.”
Across town, activists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, gathered to honor members of Congress.
True to the form of its bipartisan roots, AIPAC invited Rep. Steven Schiff (R- N.M.) to address the crowd.
In a word of caution and a reminder to the Democratic faithful gathered for the celebrations, Schiff said, “Let’s make sure we keep it bipartisan after these festivities.”
The AIPAC gathering also included one of the first stops for its former president and chairman of the board, Steve Grossman, who was tapped last week to be the national chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Senators and members of the House gathered at the informal reception to mingle with AIPAC activists.
The mood was all celebratory as Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) said, “We’ve got a lot to celebrate.”
In fact, much of the conversation there focused on the celebrations.
Freshman Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), still adjusting to the single-degree freeze in the capital, said jokingly in an interview that his first move in Congress would be to move the inauguration to his home district in Southern California.
With the flesh-pressing over and the big givers and party activists boarding buses to the inaugural gala at the U.S. Air Arena, the free festivities opened to all swelled on the Mall.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum hosted a series of lectures on “Visions of the 21st Century” as part of the inauguration’s “American Journey.”
Before a standing-room only crowd, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel drew a standing ovation for his call for remembrance as the world nears the end of the 20th century.
“Our children are so special, because they are our heirs,” Wiesel said.
“They question us,” he said. “We must try to answer them.”
How we respond is of the highest importance because “what we say to them” is how “they will answer their children,” Wiesel added.
“As we enter the 21st century,” Wiesel said, “we know that no one will ever be alone,” as the Jews were during the Holocaust.
He added, “Remember. If we remember, the future, the next century” will “advance an extraordinary measure of hope.”
As a founder of the museum, Wiesel said he was “especially proud” that the site was used for the inaugural festivities.
“The fact that the president has chosen this place to offer an intellectual constellation honors the place and the president,” he said. “It makes sense to speak of the next century in this place.”
The Middle East found its way into the Holocaust Museum as well, as dozens of well-wishers offered U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross “mazel tov,” “yasher koach” and flashed him the “thumbs up” for his work negotiating the Hebron agreement.
“I’m here because of what it represents,” said Ross, who came to the museum with his family.
“Elie Wiesel is a hero of mine,” he said in a brief interview, as another member of the audience called out congratulations.
It was then once again time for celebrations as hundreds of Jewish Democrats and leaders of Jewish organizations fanned out across Washington to dance the night away at one of the 14 inaugural balls.