“Light as a feather.”
That’s how small-business owner Manny Yekutiel described feeling as he watched Joseph R. Biden become president Wednesday on the Capitol steps, a spot where just two weeks prior, a mob wreaked havoc in an attempt to overturn the election results. Yekutiel, owner of Manny’s Cafe in San Francisco’s Mission District, hosted a virtual inauguration watch party with hundreds of attendees.
“It was inspiring,” Yekutiel said about Biden’s 22-minute inaugural address, in which the newly installed president offered a message of unity and renewal to a country in the midst of a deadly pandemic and after a turbulent four years. “Poignant and powerful. I watched history unfold with my fellow Americans.”
The inauguration provided a sense of relief, according to a number of Bay Area Jewish leaders, who applauded the historic nature of Kamala Harris becoming the first woman and first woman of color to be elected to the vice presidency, as well as her husband, Doug Emhoff, becoming the first Jewish spouse of a vice president.
“My general feeling of today was very hopeful,” said Jessica Trubowitch, public policy director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council. “We know that Jews, and other minority groups, are safer when we have a safer democratic fabric.”
Trubowitch said she was looking forward to several of Biden’s executive orders, such as the rescinding of the previous administration’s so-called “Muslim ban,” a federal mask mandate at federal buildings and changes to immigration policy.
“We are seeing some positive moves forward for this country,” she said.
She also said Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” was “beautiful.” The youth poet laureate had finished writing the poem just after the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Rabbi Mordecai Miller of Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa compared the messages of the last four years to Biden’s hopeful inaugural speech in three words: “What a contrast.”
He feels that the new president is a true leader, pointing to how he chose Harris as his running mate even after the two squabbled over Biden’s civil rights record related to busing during debates in 2019.
“Choosing her after she destroyed him [in the debate]” showed fortitude, Miller said. “That’s a leader.”
Jewish Bay Area leaders are also aware that the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump see Biden as a political opponent, if not adversary. This month, Miller wrote a column for his synagogue’s monthly newsletter titled, “Is Polite Debate a Lost Art?” where he discussed how Democrats and Republicans ought to treat each other when discussing the country’s issues.
“All this, nevertheless, requires a tremendous amount of patience on our part; especially when it comes to listening to (or reading) opinions that aren’t congruent with one’s own,” he wrote in the column.
Rabbi Jonathan Singer of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El had similar thjoughts.
“We have to roll up our sleeves,” he told J. “We gotta talk to people we disagree with.”
Singer described the inauguration as “cleansing” and said it reminded him of the Hanukkah story of the Maccabees, the Jewish warriors who reconquered Jerusalem. Watching Biden speak at the Capitol made him think of the Maccabees when they rededicated and cleansed the temple in Jerusalem that had been occupied by the Greeks.
Singer also mentioned President Trump’s Middle East policy, including the administration’s efforts to integrate Israel with its Arab neighbors, known as the Abraham Accords.
“I don’t want to denigrate that work that was done,” he said. But Singer believes the progress made in regard to Israel “was not worth destroying the American vision.”
“Jews and Christians and Muslims… we all have to work better in seeing the holy in each other,” he said.
One Jewish youth activist said the day actually left her feeling anxious.
Isha Clarke, who works at Youth vs. Apocalypse, a youth-led group that raises awareness about climate change, is worried that Trump being gone “gives us an excuse to go back to our ignorant bliss.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that [Trump] is out of office,” Clarke said. “I think his presidency was a wakeup call for people who don’t experience oppression on a daily basis. We cannot lose that wakeup call. It is all too [easy] to go back and lie down and say ‘We got him out of office.’”
The next few years, Clarke said, should be focused on trying to “dismantle” what she thinks the previous president embodied: racism, misogyny and white supremacy. Clarke also hopes Biden’s administration moves quickly to combat climate change. (Shortly after being sworn in as president, Biden signed an executive order so the U.S. can rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, which Trump pulled out of in 2017.)
“There is work to be done,” Clarke said.