What an interesting idea! On the day immediately following the pomp and ceremony of the inauguration, what is the first thing that the President and Vice President do? Convene their staff? Hold a press conference? No, they gather with much of their cabinet in the National Cathedral for a morning of prayer and reflection for the days ahead. This tradition started decades ago and has continued with both Democratic and Republican administrations. I was honored to participate in this year’s ritual along with Catholic, Sikh, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Protestant (mainline and evangelical), and Jewish (congregational and denominational) leaders. We prayed in Spanish, Hebrew and English. A fabulous youth gospel choir lifted us out of our seats and challenged us to move forward as the gorgeous mosaic that we are. During the hour-and-a-half worship service, I caught the eye of Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren on the very day that Israelis went to the polls to pick new leaders for our Jewish State. It was hard to imagine what was going through his mind as this uniquely American rite unfolded.
I was asked to offer the Priestly Benediction along with Ms. Laila Muhammad, a Muslim leader from Chicago. Following our blessing, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta asked all of us to join our hands in prayer. I took the hand of Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington D.C., on one side and Ms. Muhammad on the other. Talk about symbolism!
Did we change anything with our interfaith prayer service? Maybe we opened a few closed hearts and minds as our country gears up for the bumpy way ahead. I’m pretty certain that we helped fortify our government’s leaders spiritually as they try to bring our fractured nation together. Here we were in the National Cathedral wearing the emblems of our many faiths yet bound together by this moment of profound opportunity. I left even more confident that leading the URJ is a pretty simple task compared to the mammoth weight placed upon the 44th President of the United States of America.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs is president of the Union for Reform Judaism.