Watching the inauguration of Barack Obama changed my life. I didn’t plan on watching it. In fact, I forgot all about
I started feeling a pinch in my chest, a rock in my throat and tears welling up.
it. I don’t have a TV, but I happened to be near one the night of the inauguration. To me it just seemed like a good time to turn on the news and see what had happened that day around the globe. I had no idea that half of the world’s population was tuned into Washington to witness the change of leadership in America.
On TV I saw huge crowds of Americans all covering the streets of Washington. I heard that the security measures taken for the inauguration were unprecedented in world history. So I patiently watched and listened. All of sudden a blonde man took the podium and began his speech with “Let us pray....” He then continued, “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.” I started feeling a pinch in my chest, a rock in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes. So many emotions and thoughts were running through me.
“Hear O’ Israel”? Why is an American non-Jew, who’s speaking on behalf of the new non-Jewish president, saying our tag line? Shema Yisrael HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad is the Jewish mantra. It’s our national calling. The irony! What did that even mean? In the middle of his prayer, which I thought was better than Obama’s speech, I turned to a channel that shows all of the international news channels on the same screen. I was amazed to see CNN, BBC, France 24, Russia Today, Fox News, Al-Jazeera and others were all tuned in and focused on the president's inauguration. With the entire world completely focused on America, they seized the opportunity to say what we were chosen to always declare. A wave of righteous jealousy came over me.
I am not usually jealous of anyone or anything, but this was too much. Israel as a country models itself after America in almost every way possible, every way except for one. Israel would never start off a national ceremony in prayer. That would be too Jewish. And now a Christian Pastor named Rick Warren is calling out to the world, “Hear O’ Israel....” The man was calling out to the Jewish people and I don’t think he even knew it.
At that moment I made a promise that if I was ever given the opportunity to lead a ceremony in Israel, I would begin with a tefilah, a prayer. As fate would have it, about a week later I was asked to give the opening speech at the Sixth Annual Jerusalem Conference. The former Chief of Staff of the IDF, Moshe Ya’alon, was there, several other secular members of Knesset made an appearance, and hundreds of others from Israel and around the world came together to take part in the conference.
No one has ever opened up the night with a prayer. It’s simply not politically correct.
There have been many conferences in years past. No one has ever opened up the night with a prayer. It’s simply not politically correct or socially acceptable in Israel to pray in public. I was concerned what people would think. The conference was going to be broadcast on Channel 2 all across Israel. It was being translated simultaneously into three different languages. What could I do? I had just made a promise and I knew that no matter how unreasonable, the conference would commence with my saying a prayer on behalf of Israel. George Bernard Shaw once said, “Reasonable men adapt themselves to the world, unreasonable men attempt to adapt the world to themselves. That’s why all progress depends on unreasonable men.”
After saying the prayer and before introducing Ya’alon, the entire audience erupted in applause and cheers. Looking around the audience and seeing their response, I knew something great was accomplished that night. Funny how it took a Christian pastor from California to say “Hear O’ Israel” for the Jerusalem Conference to finally begin with a prayer.
May we see the day that the entire world tunes in to Israel to hear the Torah that will come forth from Zion.