Derek Kwait and Stephanie Shainker enjoy the We Are One inaugural concert on Sunday.
As soon as Nazgol Ashouri boarded the plane in Oakland, Calif. for Baltimore, Md. to attend Barack Obama's inauguration, she could feel the excitement. Passengers on the plane were already "Obamified," wearing Obama pins, hats, and flashing lights, eager to find out from each other why they were going and how they got tickets.
Ashouri, an MBA student from Santa Clara University, was one of four student activists chosen to represent Hillel at Inaugural festivities in Washington, D.C. The four students were all recent participants in Taglit-Birthright Israel programs or Hillel’s alternative break service programs who submitted essays, multi-media presentations, editorials or blogs to Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone describing their experiences. Hillel was invited to participate in the Inaugural ceremonies and the National Day of Service by the Obama Transition Team.
Ashouri, who lived in Washington D.C. for three years, said she found the city to be completely different from when she lived here.
"The energy in the city was just incredible," she said. "I didn’t envision anything like that."
Eric Niederman, a Hofstra University senior, also attended the inauguration with Ashouri.
"There were so many people. It was amazing," Niederman said. "There has been a lot of voter apathy, especially in my age group, and it was great to see so many young people there."
Actor Tobey Maguire speaks at the New Era of Service Breakfast.
On Monday, Hillel President Firestone and Bronfman Fellow Jamie Silverstein attended the New Era of Service Breakfast sponsored by ServiceNation.org. The breakfast, which was held at Ballou High School in Southeast D.C., featured many high-profile speakers from Capitol Hill, including Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), and Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), as well as Hollywood stars Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, and Tobey Maguire.
Silverstein said that the focus of the breakfast was a call to service to mobilize all of the young people who participated in the election to get more involved in their communities.
"It shows that the Obama team really understands the direction the country needs to go in," Silverstein said. "The best way to unite America is through various mediums of service."
Firestone said Hillel, like the Obama Administration, has been focusing on mobilizing Jewish students to perform service. "I am proud that part of our organization's mission falls right in line with the new president's agenda, to empower young people to make a change in their communities through service," he said. "It's something Hillel as an organization has always stood for and will continue to do."
Two Hillel students were also selected to attend the "We Are One" inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. All of the students who attended either the inauguration or the concert agreed that even though they had to stand in the cold and fight crowds of more than a million people, being there to experience the moment was well worth it.
"It was a great experience to be in the city at this time and see the excitement everyone has and just to be a part of it," said Derek Kwait, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, who attended the concert on Sunday with Executive Vice President Scott Brown and Stephanie Shainker from University of Delaware.
Spectators filled the National Mall to see the We Are One concert on Sunday.
Ashouri and Niederman, who attended the inauguration with Firestone on Tuesday, agree. Ashouri said that she will always remember how the millions of people on the Mall all came together to form a community that day.
"Everyone was just so excited to be there that they didn’t care that they were miles away from the Capitol, as long as they could see it," she said. "There was a feeling of bonding and inclusiveness that everyone was there for the same reason."