As far as Sami Rahamim knows, the seating at the State of the Union address is random. He told the Forward that there “were couples invited who were separated.” His seat, as the guest of his congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was “up in the gallery, facing the President on the left side.”
The man he was seated next to was Ruben Reyes, a district director for the Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the congressman from the district bordering that of former representative Gabby Giffords. While waiting for the president’s entrance, Rahamim chatted with his seatmate and found that they were “aligned” on many issues and spoke about being an immigrant and “what it takes to make it in this country.” Another coincidence is that Reyes shares a first name and the same initials as Sami’s late father Reuven, who was fatally shot at his workplace, Accent Signage in Minneapolis, the day after Yom Kippur, September 27, 2012.
Sami was at the State of the Union along with 120 other survivors of gun violence sponsored by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns They are spending the day after the address in small groups, “visiting our members of Congress, particularly the swing votes, to show what we really mean in this fight,” he said.
He had met many of the other survivors at a press conference sponsored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on December 17 in New York, and says of the others that even though they have only met a few times “we are a close community, and share something extremely powerful.” In a dvar Torah he gave at his synagogue, Beth El in St Louis Park, Minn., on January 5, he wrote of how being with other survivors, there was a “profound lump sum of grief” and “yet, there was an immense feeling of strength and unity among us” because “we were all there to stand for something together.”
Five thoughts on President Obama’s State of the Union address:
• Obama called for “smarter government” but, as many noted, he also called for a bigger government – or, more precisely, a federal government with bigger ambitions to educate, protect and defend. (More on this in a moment.) But that expansive vision did not translate to the world outside our shores. Foreign affairs, especially concerning the Middle East, wasn’t merely put in the back seat of this address — it was locked away in the trunk.
Obama didn’t mention Iran until just a few minutes before 10 pm (EST). He promised to stand by a safe and secure Israel, a promise delivered in one sentence. He never even mentioned the Palestinians. And his description of the brutal civil war going on in Syria, which threatens the stability of the entire region, was dramatically downplayed.
The president is probably right in reading the public. His pledge to pull out of Afghanistan next year drew huge applause. Clearly, America’s global footprint is going to shrink. Which is good if that makes way for a major upgrade at home…
• Honestly, I couldn’t keep track of all the new federal programs he proposed. Promoting clean energy. Building high-tech manufacturing hubs. Something about fixing bridges and reducing housing payments. Reforming high schools. And the really big deal — extending pre-school opportunities to all young Americans.
As long as there is a way to responsibly pay for these programs (and I realize that is a gigantic if) I found it refreshing to hear a president dream big, especially when his goals are not to build more weapon systems but better schools and new factories.