Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday will mark the end of one very long road and the beginning of another. His historic ascent to the highest office in the land comes as our nation and our world face their gravest challenges in decades.
Jan. 20 will also, hopefully, close the door to a period of political divisiveness that at times unsettled our own community. Many area Jews passionately campaigned for Obama; others just as tirelessly opposed him.
But whether one supported or opposed Obama's candidacy, now is the time to take a step back in awe of what an Obama presidency means for the history of our country.
Much has been made of the fact that the inauguration falls one day after Martin Luther King Day. As it should, Obama's meteoric rise to power would not have been possible without King's dream nearly half a century ago.
Speaking at a pro-Israel rally here last week, J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, went even further, suggesting that the Obama presidency wouldn't have been possible if African-Americans and Jewish Americans hadn't joined together in the civil-rights movement.
We as Jews should be proud of that legacy. Since that time, black-Jewish relations have had their ups and downs, as Exponent staff writer Bryan Schwartzman reports in this week's cover story. Obama himself has moving invoked that relationship and has pledged to help restore the alliance.
And despite the controversies that plagued the Obama campaign, the overwhelming majority of U.S. Jews cast their ballot for him.
As he works toward his much anticipated inauguration speech, Obama has said that he aspires only to capture this moment in history. It's a tall order, given the depressing array of domestic and foreign-policy crises that he will inherit.
Many in our community will partake in inaugural activities -- some by traveling to the festivities in Washington, and others, like the senior residents of Brith Sholom House, by throwing their own parties.
We all should stop and savor the poignancy of the moment. There will be plenty of time for debate and dissent as Obama pushes Congress to pass his economic stimulus plan, and he clarifies how he and his foreign-policy team intend to engage in the elusive quest for peace between Israel and her neighbors.
Each Shabbat, we recite a prayer for our country and its leaders. There will, no doubt, be extra blessings and sermons this Shabbat as we mark both Martin Luther King Day and look ahead to the inauguration.
But the traditional prayer never felt more timely: "Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask Your blessings for our country, for its government, for its leader and advisers, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights of Your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst.
"Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony to banish all hatred and bigotry and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions which are the pride and glory of our country.
"May this land under Your Providence be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom and helping them to fulfill the vision of Your prophet: 'Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war any more.'
"And let us say: Amen."