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I wrote this piece at a moment when I really wasn’t allowing myself to be hopeful. Hope was in the air, that ‘yes we can’ feeling was all around – but I just wouldn’t let myself believe it.
But in spite of my doubts, my “Eeyore” tendencies as a friend calls it, I made a party the night of the Democratic Convention’s nomination of Obama. Talk like Eeyore, act like Tigger my friend says – that’ll be my motto. So, Tigger-like, I made a celebratory party.
I called it a ‘Dayenu’ party – Dayenu means ‘It would have been sufficient’ in Hebrew – or so I’m told. I don’t speak any Hebrew. The only part of being Jewish I’ve really hung onto is Passover, the liberation holiday, the celebration of the Exodus, and a holiday that lends itself to endless remaking.
Passover is a home-based holiday, a formal dinner with ritual foods and readings, called a ‘seder.’ I make big celebratory seders every year. And a traditional part of the seder is the singing of “Dayenu.” Each of the steps of the Exodus are recited, with Dayenu sung:
If we had freed ourselves from slavery
And not passed through the sea in safety
If we had passed through the sea in safety
And not learned to survive in the desert
It’s crazy really – what good would the Exodus have done if everybody had drowned? Or wandered endlessly in the desert? But actually it’s not so crazy: the meaning to be taken out of Dayenu is that each step needs to be acknowledged, celebrated for the accomplishment it is.
And that’s what I decided I needed to do about Obama’s nomination. Celebrate it and just enjoy the moment. And if our worst nightmares came true and Sarah Palin ended up being sworn in as President a couple of years later, so be it. There’d be plenty of time to mourn -- and to organize -- then.
So I invited a bunch of people, set up all the laptops we could gather (I don’t own a TV) and opened a bottle of champagne as Obama gave his acceptance speech. I expected to be moved, elated. I was oddly flat. Conventions are so, well, conventional, you know? And not having a TV, I kinda lost the ability to listen to that standardized rhetoric. So sure, celebrate, champagne, hope, yeah maybe we can at that, whatever. I did all the steps of celebration, but pfeh. Stood there surrounded by laptops blaring speeches, feeling nothing.
And then the wives came up on stage after the speech. You’d think I’d be made miserable by that too – the old ‘farmer takes a wife’ style of the thing. But in all the ritual, a magic moment happened for me – Joe Biden hugged Michelle Obama, and – the moment! – Obama hugged Jill Biden. My eyes filled, my throat closed. I remember when a black man was not allowed to touch a white woman on television. Some scene from my childhood about Sammie Davis Jr I think it was, shock and horror, oh no, not happening. And here was a Black man embracing a white woman – and my god, it was the Presidential Nominee hugging the wife of the Vice Presidential nominee. Grab that champagne! Things do change! There is hope! Yes! We can!And we did.