Perhaps only actor Ben Affleck caused more stares on the
floor of the Democratic Convention Monday night than the gathering of
roughly 25 Jews, sitting on the floor, chanting the Book of Lamentations
at the start of Tisha B'Av.
The day of mourning, commemorating the destruction of the Temple, coincided
with the first night of the convention. And to help out observant Jews
in need of a place to pray, the National Jewish Democratic Council arranged
for Bill Hamilton, a Boston rabbi, to lead a service at the Fleet Center.
Right after former US president Bill Clinton wrapped up his remarks at
11 p.m. and the thousands of delegates, journalists, politicians, and
staffers filtered out for the evening's festivities, the group of Jews,
many wearing yarmulkas, others wearing baseball caps, gathered onto the
floor of the stadium.
The reading of Lamentations is traditionally done while sitting on the
floor, so many in the group sat on the red carpet, much of it covered
in debris and popcorn.
"It was a surreal experience to be sitting on the floor of the convention
having a solemn service, while behind us was Ben Affleck and [Reverend]
Al Sharpton," said Kenneth Baer, 31, a former speechwriter for vice
president Al Gore.
"Al Sharpton did not come deliver a meditation on the Book of Lamentations,"
he added jokingly.
Amos Hochstein, 32, a former congressional staffer who now works for
Cassidy & Associates, a political and governmental relations firm
in Washington, said, "It was a remarkable moment that I could never
expect as a modern Orthodox Jew who is also active in American politics.
To combine those two is such a powerful statement. I can't think of any
other country in the world where you would find on the floor of the convention
literally sitting on the floor of the convention only a
moment after speeches by Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, people chanting
Eicha [Lamentations] and [reciting evening prayers]. It was an extremely
moving moment," Hochstein added.
Shana Tesler, 32, who also works at Cassidy, and was a former staff member
in the Clinton White House, said, "It was a sort of a once-in-a-lifetime
thing for me to be on the convention floor, to be sitting there doing
Eicha, on a night that president Clinton spoke. For him to speak and...
then to stay on the same floor and listen to Eicha, it was wild."