God bless America. Barack Hussein Obama is going to be the next President of the United States!
His presidency will be in partnership with Joe Biden and Rahm Emanuel. For those who don't know, Rahm Emanuel speaks fluent Hebrew, is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, and is the model for The West Wing's Josh Lyman. (For more on Barack Obama's campaign and The West Wing, check this out.) But, we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves here...
Judging by my lack of posts recently, you'd think I'd have disappeared off the planet. Not so! I've been engaged weekly in 26+ hours of class, volunteering at an Ethiopian immigrant absorption center and the Jerusalem AIDS Project, and participating in an inter-denominational Jewish discussion group as well as having the opportunity to spend a weekend at a leadership seminar with young adults from over a dozen countries. But lurking in the background of all of these events, creeping into conversations and classes, has been the 2008 Presidential election.
The air has been charged with anticipation, even here in Jerusalem. Editorials and news articles have been in the English language news websites for weeks, non-Americans constantly ask Americans about their thoughts on the election, and of course all the ex-pats have been abuzz with excitement. Our friend Joel has been compulsively checking www.electoral-vote.com, students have been discussing California's Proposition 8, and (most) hopes have been high. Our breath was bated as November 4, 2008 came and slowly leaked by here in Jerusalem.
The time-difference between the west coast of the United States and Israel is seven hours. So, when polls opened in Virginia at 6:00 AM, I was eating lunch after my double-Hebrew lesson. I didn't have time to check any poll data throughout the afternoon and evening because of my classes and Rav Siach (you'll hear more about this another time), and when I got home at 10:30 PM, Jessica was already asleep. Of course, we had no intention of missing this historic moment - a few hours of sleep was all part of the plan.
The alarm went off at 3:30 AM (8:30 PM EST). While Jessica and I rubbed the sleep from our eyes, we check the current results online. A few states had been called, but nothing particularly exciting had happened. We hadn't missed any drama.
Jessica and I got dressed and walked into the dark, chilly Jerusalem morning. Scheduled for an all-night extravaganza was an election results viewing at Mike's Place, a bar in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. When Jessica and I arrived shortly after 4:00, we found a couple of our friends already there. Some had been up all night, others (like us) had slept for a few hours already; most would be up through sunrise.
(Adena, me, Jessica, Gavin, Leah, Sydney, Random Guy, Chad)
The atmosphere at the bar was charged with anticipation. The event was sponsored by Democrats Abroad, so the clientele was mostly American Democrat. (Jessica and I had no trouble fitting in.) People were talking noisily, but the din was never so clamorous that one couldn't hear the Anderson Cooper if one wanted to pay attention. Every twenty minutes or so, dramatic music would herald what we were all waiting for: CNN PROJECTION!
Our friend Leah was disappointed when Kansas went red, but Sydney was rejoicing louder than anyone else when New Mexico amazingly became blue. We had our fingers crossed for Al Franken, but we had nothing to fear from the Virginia Senate race. Our hometown hero, Mark Warner, handily (and rightfully) demolished his unpopular and heinously ineffective gubernatorial predecessor in a satisfying blowout of an election. CNN's "hologram" technology kept us entertained, but as the "night" wore on and some of our friends retired to watch the rest of the results at home, Jessica and I considered ducking out to catch the inevitable acceptance speech from our apartment. We decided to remain until 6:00, when the west coast polls would be closed. Good thing we did!
Jessica and I were very nervous about Virginia. My home state (and Jessica's for the past eight years) has supported Republicans in every Presidential election since Lyndon Johnson's 1964 bid for the White House. However, Mark Warner's terrific success as governor, the gubernatorial succession of Tim Kaine, and the election of Senator Jim Webb all indicated that Virginia has been becoming more Democratic over the years. Senator-elect Warner's soaring popularity (he won by more than 1,000,000 votes, 64% / 34%) was another good sign that Obama could do well in our state. So, we had a lot of hope going into this.
On top of all that, my parents have been volunteering tirelessly for the past several weeks for the Obama campaign, and for this I'm very proud. (Later, when I heard President-elect Obama's acceptance speech, I beamed when he acknowledged the work of my parents and people like them: "[Our campaign] drew strength from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on doors of perfect strangers, and from the millions of Americans who volunteered and organized and proved that more than two centuries later a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from the Earth.")
So, when the minutes dragged on with no results from Virginia, even though it was fairly evident that Obama would win the election, Jessica and I were still hoping for a more personal victory.
And then it happened.
We're ready to call Virginia for Democratic Senator Barack Obama!
We shouted, we clapped, we banged on the table. I hugged Jessica as we cheered - I was absolutely elated. I've always loved being from Virginia, but there have been a lot of things that bother me about the state. This was a true sign that my neighbors are uniting behind a message of change and hope and are emerging out of the conservatism that has plagued them for so long. Ecstatic, I called my mom (my first international phone call from my cell phone) and shared the victory with her.
And as I was connected with my family at home, and mere minutes after calling Virginia for Barack Obama, the polls closed on the west coast, and Barack Obama was declared President-elect of the United States!
We shouted, we cried, we embraced. The noise was enormous, and I certainly couldn't hear anything from Virginia through the phone. Even thinking back to that moment of near transcendental exuberance fills my heart with glee and my spirit with hope. It was truly a moment of solidarity, of joy, and of righteous and thrilling victory.
We celebrated with our remaining friends and the other people in the bar as a shout of joy echoed across the globe. The sun was just rising in Jerusalem, and although it was dark in the United States, there was a new dawn in America as well.
Obama supporters near our table. (This image appeared on huffingtonpost.com)
After several minutes of celebration, Jessica and I headed home to watch the speeches. We heard John McCain on Israeli TV with Hebrew translations offered during his pauses, and we watched Barack Obama's acceptance speech on my computer. It was a thrilling morning, and naturally, we did what we always used to do at UVA when staying up really late: We ate pancakes (chocolate chip pancakes since it was a special occasion).
Going to school that morning was terrific. Although we did eventually have to settle down and focus on learning, every minute of every break was spent talking about the election and checking tight races: Proposition 8; senate races in Alaska, Georgia, Minnesota, and Oregon; the possible upset in Charlottesville's 5th district of Old Guard Republican Virgil Goode, etc. I'm still on a high from the win, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next four years.
Of course, the real triumph of this election is not that Barack Obama was elected President. Rather, it's that the American people has expressed its faith in change for the future. President Obama will be a righteous visionary whose strong leadership will guide the world in a positive direction. I'll close, then, with President-elect Obama's message of hope, taken from the acceptance speech he gave Tuesday night.
This is your victory.
And I know you didn't do this just to win an election. And I know you didn't do it for me.You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime....
This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.
It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other....This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.