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A Front Row Seat to History

May 8, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

I voted for McCain and still wept for joy at the inauguration.

What does it mean to have a front row seat? Is it an expression only meant literally or is there a metaphorical component? I didn't go to Washington. I didn't want to brave the crowds, the weather or the severe lack of port-a-potties (one for every 600 people!). Not to mention the fact that I didn't get an invitation – maybe because I voted for McCain.

But I still felt like I had a front row seat. Even though it was in front of my computer. A front row seat not just to history in the making (it's embarrassingly true; my husband and I could not stop crying), but a front row seat to something even more important: to the resurgence of hope.

Whatever our personal politics, this is a message we would all do well to heed. It was a tremendously moving inauguration. It had all the spectacle and pageantry of a great nation. And it signaled the inspiration of America's willingness to move -- in a relatively short span of time -- from a country with pervasive racism to electing a black president.

When the Almighty tells Abraham to leave everything familiar behind and set out on a journey into the unknown, He offers him reassurance. You will become a great nation, your name will be great, and "those who bless you will be blessed." Dennis Prager once suggested that the good in America is a direct result of this promise. He may be right. What I do know for sure is that there is good in this country.

There is a striving for meaning, for purpose. There is a striving for unity and caring. There is a striving for morality and a relationship with God. And it's moving and inspiring.

In challenging times -- whether for individuals or nations -- we tend to lose hope. We give in to dangerous cynicism or paralyzing despair. The election of the first black president of the United States has signaled a willingness and desire to lift ourselves out of our stale and unproductive state.

He tried to inspire us to hard work and purposeful effort. He tried to communicate that anything is possible -- with will and determination -- and the blessing of the Almighty.

It wasn't based on naive optimism, but on a realistic assessment of what this country is and what it could be.

And it was empowering. Sometimes individuals feel lost in the face of world forces. What can I do? How can I make a difference?

The inauguration reminded us that we all count, that everyone's actions matter. The Talmud teaches that everyone should say, "The world was created just for me." I am the one who is responsible.

And with responsibility comes hope -- and action.

I heard a story last night of a man who went to a prominent rabbi and bemoaned the fact that he had just lost 80 million dollars. "You had 80 million dollars," said the rabbi, "and there are Jews without food on their table or roofs over their heads."

We all have 80 million dollars -- in skills, abilities, passions, energy and ideals.

We have been complacent too long. We can all take our responsibilities more seriously and accomplish much more -- for America, for Israel, and for humanity.

It's good to care. It's good to be inspired. It's sometimes even good to cry. But the best of all is to act.

I don't know what kind of president Barack Obama will turn out to be. But I know that I am inspired to put my best self forward. And for that clarion call alone, for that refocus and re-motivation, I am grateful for his inauguration.

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