Jewish politicians from Pennsylvania, across the state, attended Tuesday’s inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama. Among them were Gov. Ed Rendell and Sen. Arlen Specter.
State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-Montgomery) was in Washington and sitting just 100 yards from the podium Tuesday morning.
“The atmosphere was so hopeful and positive,” he said. “People greeted each other in friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood. It was a new beginning for America.”
There was much anticipation for Obama’s first speech as leader of the country.
Able to balance optimism with the numerous challenges he faces in his new position, his speech let the country know that changes were coming.
State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) wasn’t in Washington for the ceremony, but with his staff and friends watched it from his office.
“I thought it was very moving, both visually seeing him and the incredible crowd on the Mall and on the substance and the way it was delivered,” he said.
“It was inspirational and hopeful, yet somber,” Shapiro said. “It called on each of us to help bring further greatness to our country, but was honest about the challenges that lie ahead. He managed to take the difficult times and remove fear from people’s minds and replace it with hope.”
With Wednesday being Obama’s first full day in office, he will quickly be pressured to act on the many challenges facing the country.
Both Shapiro and Frankel agreed that the economic crisis facing America should be first on his list, however, he will have to multitask right from the start.
“I think he goes to work right away,” Shapiro said. “The president should be able to focus on multiple issues at once. The economy is the number one priority — getting a stimulus packaged passed quickly.”
Frankel said while the economy is the pressing issue, foreign policy needs to be dealt with too.
“The financial crisis is at the top of the list,” he said. “You have foreign policy that needs to be addressed immediately. I don’t think you can do one thing and wait for the rest.
“The physical challenges facing the country, in spite of the great feeling everyone was feeling yesterday, the Stock Market took another dramatic tumble,” he continued. “There clearly is a lack of confidence in markets right now. It will be a very difficult challenge for him right now.”
As for the looming conflicts in the Middle East, both politicians said that Obama would be more focused on working for peace with other nations.
“I think Obama will try to be more engaged in the process that will promote peace,” Frankel said. “The Bush administration was a friend of Israel, [but] I don’t think they were engaged in diplomacy. They just wanted to go it alone.
“Obama is going to work hard diplomatically to bring allies into the peace process,” he continued.
Shapiro said that Obama is a fresh change for Jews and Americans in general.
“I think he’s going to do for Jews what he’s done for all Americans,” Shapiro said. “He’s going to rekindle our sense of hope and optimism. He’s going to work so that prosperity reaches all corners of our society. It truly is an ideal of our Jewish teachings.”
(Mike Zoller can be reached at email@example.com.)