Bound for D.C.: Local Jews make their way to Obama inauguration

Douglas Goldman was already a Barack Obama fan when he welcomed the then-recently declared candidate to his San Francisco home for a 2007 soiree. Goldman’s admiration only increased after his young son, Matthew, challenged Obama to a game of air hockey.

Obama took up the challenge and played a lightning game with Matthew. Who won? That’s classified.

The founder and chairman of Certain Software, Goldman will be in the nation’s capital to attend Obama’s inauguration Tuesday, Jan. 20. He is one of several Bay Area Jews planning to witness history and cheer on the president they worked hard to elect.

“He is someone who can be thoughtful and serious and then can be warm and friendly,” says Goldman, who served on Obama’s national finance committee. “He’s just a very genuine human being.”

Goldman, 56, isn’t yet sure where he will be during the swearing-in. More than a million visitors are expected to cram into Washington, D.C., for the event. Goldman will also attend gatherings with finance committee colleagues, and he has tickets to an inaugural ball — his first — though he says he isn’t atwitter about the latter, having heard that they are more “hot and noisy” than “social zenith.”

Still, Jan. 20 is the culmination of two years of activism for Goldman, who joined the campaign early. He says of the incoming president, “At a time when our country so desperately needs self-confidence, he is somebody who has it and who projects it.”

Ilana Nankin feels the same way. The U.C. Berkeley senior serves on the presidential inaugural staff, and she devoted time and energy to the campaign last year, recruiting volunteers for Obama’s Indiana and Nevada campaigns.

Her guy won, and she’s thrilled.

“I’ve never in my life been so excited,” says Nankin, who will be on hand for the swearing-in. “To be part of such a historic time, and to be so inspired and motivated, means so much to me.”

Nankin will have work to do in Washington, D.C. She signed on to help chaperone 2,900 schoolchildren who received invitations to the inauguration.

A native of Cupertino, Nankin grew up in a Conservative Jewish home, and attended Congregation Beth David in Saratoga. She is an alumnus of both Birthright Israel and March of the Living (a teen trip to Poland and Israel). Last year, she completed a semester abroad at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“I’ve always had a passion about making a positive change in the world, and I feel that’s what Jewish culture represents,” she says. “The Jewish community seeks to find the best in people, to bring communities together and make a positive change. That’s how I view Obama.”

Nankin met Obama only once, at a rally in Las Vegas the weekend before the election.

Attorney Jeffrey Bleich of Piedmont has known the president-elect a bit longer. The two first became acquainted in 1991, long before a then-30-year-old Obama started pondering a run for the Oval Office. Bleich most recently served as California co-chair for the Obama campaign. He is also active with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

“I helped him out in his U.S. Senate race,” says Bleich, 47, who will attend the inauguration. “We stayed in touch. I’ve been to his house. Obviously I’m a little biased, but he is even better in person than all the public hype.”

Backing that up, Bleich recalls a book-signing event he organized for Obama several years ago, held in his law offices. He says Obama took time to chat with everyone, from the senior partners to the receptionists. “He wasn’t looking for the most important person,” Bleich says. “He was looking for real people. No pecking order.”

Roselyne “Cissie” Swig, one of the most prominent philanthropists in the Bay Area, and a Democratic Party activist, is a big Obama supporter. She, too, will attend the inauguration.

Swig’s whirlwind trip to D.C. will include galas organized by the inaugural committee, the Democratic Party, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein,

as well as events hosted by Vital Voices/Global Partners, AIPAC, Planned Parenthood and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Then, of course, there are the inaugural balls.

Though she doesn’t know Obama as well as Bleich does, Swig has met him several times, starting with a fundraiser for Boxer’s last re-election campaign.

“He was impressive then and continues to impress with his ability to grasp issues and the pulse of our country,” Swig says.

Once the inaugural parties end and everyone goes home, it’s back to real life for the former campaigners. But what if the phone rings at 3 a.m. and it’s the new president asking for help?

“I won’t say never,” muses Bleich about any possible post in the Obama administration, but “hopefully he has better judgment than that.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.