Some Washington-area Jews are jubilant, others litigious as Biden declares victory

In Washington on Saturday, supporters of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris celebrate their apparent victory. (Photo by Isabella Lefkowitz-Rao)

Steph Black was in her apartment in the District on Saturday morning when she heard a commotion in the street.

“And I was like, what the hell is that noise?” she said. “It sounds like somebody’s screaming bloody murder.”

She checked her phone and understood. After several tense days, news outlets had declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner in the presidential contest against incumbent Donald Trump.

Many Republicans called the declaration premature as ballots in several battleground states continued to be counted. Trump has charged fraud, without evidence, and at press time has not conceded to Biden.

But that hasn’t stopped Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris from declaring victory — and their supporters across the country, including the Washington area, from celebrating.

Black said she voted for Biden, although he wasn’t her choice in the primaries. “Not by a long shot.”

After learning of Biden’s victory, she opened the door to her balcony. She looked out to the crowds clapping, shouting and banging pots and pans.

“It was like, just, jubilation. Truly,” Black said. “After four years of this administration, it just felt like such waves of relief. To have it end on such a beautiful day in DC, it was a really special moment to be a part of.”

Joel Griffith, the DC chair of the Young Jewish Conservatives, saw the hubbub and thought it was premature.

“There’s still quite a bit of litigation that is being worked through,” he said this week. “And until those secretaries of states certify those results, we actually don’t have a president-elect.”

He added that “the chances are slim that once the litigation proceeds that ultimately President Trump will prevail in reelection, but I think it’s important that the process plays out.”

Israel “Izzy” Klein of Chevy Chase had no such qualms. Klein, the political committee chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, was out running errands with his daughter when they heard the news. All of a sudden, their phones started filling with text messages.

“We were super excited,” Klein said. “We were honking our horns like everybody else.”

That night, Klein projected Biden’s victory speech on the side of his house so he could watch with his neighbors.

That ended four days in which the nation held its collective breath as the election remained too close to call.

Hannah Recht of Washington said she predicted it was going to be a nail biter.

“My expectations were pretty similar to the situation we’re in right now,” Recht said the day after the election. “I didn’t think we would know the results last night. I think it was pretty clear that it was going to be close.”

Recht said she voted for Biden, but at the time she wouldn’t go as far as to say that he would win.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” Recht said. “Things are looking good right now. I hope we could know by the end of the day, but I don’t think that’s clear right now.”

Initially, until the absentee ballots were counted, the results were much closer than many expected. Joel Taubman of Falls Church said he voted for a third party. He attributed the surprise closeness to the polls.

“I think part of the reason that the election seems closer than anyone thought is because the pollsters seem to be very terrible at assessing whether people are going to vote for Trump or not,” Taubman said. “We thought they might readjust after 2016, and they have not.”

On Shabbat morning, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf was giving a sermon at Kol Shalom in Rockville.

“The message I gave on Shabbat was that, for all of the problems, for the fact that there are so many people in our society who are OK with the policies of the current administration, there is still a critical mass of people in our society who believe that this is a society that is meant to be one for justice, for the dignity of all people, for overcoming the scourge of racism and fights discrimination,” Steinlauf said this week.

“I see that this election ultimately represents that critical mass taking a stand and having their voices heard, and showing a vision that has faith in the potential and power of our democracy,” he said.

Not much later, Kol Shalom’s president announced that the race had been called for Biden and Harris.

“It was an absolutely amazing moment,” Steinlauf said. “We ended up singing the Shehecheyanu [thanking God for allowing us to reach this moment] and it was just an amazing moment that we got to celebrate it together as a congregation.”

Since then, the majority of Jewish organizations have issued congratulations to Biden and Harris.

“American citizens came out in record numbers to participate in our democracy and their voices have been heard and counted,” The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington said in a statement. “We further congratulate Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on her historic victory as the first woman, black person, and person of South Asian descent to be elected to the office of Vice President. We pray they will lead our country with compassion, justice, and wisdom.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin congratulated the Democratic candidates.

Holdouts include the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America, which announced that they would not refer to Biden as “president-elect” until legal challenges are settled, reflecting a consolidation of right-wing backing for Trump’s refusal to concede.

“We will be referring to ‘President-elect’ Biden when the states certify the election and the courts have ruled on allegations of fraud and irregularities,” said Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition director.

“I will not call him president-elect,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America. “I will say ‘likely president-elect.’”

Contributing to this story were the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, WJW Intern Isabella Lefkowitz-Rao and Editor David Holzel.

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