Like William Kristol, I attend a Conservative synagogue (that's not a political designation) whose congregants each week recite prayers for our country and for the State of Israel. Unlike Kristol, who writes in this the Jan. 19 New York Times about his reaction to this past Shabbat's prayers, I am under no illusion that George W. Bush always exercised "just and rightful authority."
There is, however, a separate Jewish prayer that captures the mixed sense of relief, of gratitude, and of utter, soaring, joy that so many of us feel as Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States. It is a short blessing said by everyone at certain times -- for instance, in celebrating various holidays -- and by anyone at any time when celebrating a special experience of personal happiness. It is called the Shehechiyanu, and the traditional translation goes like this:
Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
It seems to me that the Shehechiyanu is the natural response for all Obama supporters who remember his 20-point lag in the polls in the fall of 2007, the bitter cold of Iowa in January of 2008 and the long slog through the primary season. It is the prayer for all Democrats giddy at the end of the ruinous reign of Republican ideologues whose politics look very much like Kristol's.
And finally, it is a prayer that can unite all Americans -- and, yes, it resonates with special force for African-Americans -- who are filled with genuine joy (that word again -- I can't help it) at the way in which Inauguration Day 2009 has sustained us with an extraordinary revival of the American dream.
When Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, was telephoned by Al Gore in 2000 and asked to be the Democratic vice presidential candidate, a news report says that he accepted and then requested that Gore recite the Shehechiyanu with him. Lieberman knew that his personal milestone was also a milestone for the Jewish people and the American people. How much more so when Barack Hussein Obama assumes the highest office in the land.
I came across another translation of the Shehechiyanu, from a father writing about the special moments he shares with his children. Perhaps, if the Obama family sees this, they can use it among themselves many times in the years to come.
"I am grateful to the source of life, that I have been kept alive and brought to this moment so that I may share life with those I love and experience the blessings and goodness that life has to offer."