David Shneer: My Commitment Ceremony With Obama

Roundup: Historians' Take

David Shneer is a professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a writer, whose most recent book is “Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust.”

I’m one of those Americans who pounded the pavement for candidate Barack Obama in 2008 but has since grown ambivalent about his presidency. He wasn’t pulling out enough troops from Afghanistan; he wasn’t working hard enough to push Israel to halt settlement building; the health care initiative turned into a disaster. And he wasn’t coming out in favor of the legal rights for all Americans to get married, a shortcoming made all the more glaring by New York’s recent legal victory. But my ambivalence fell away when I fell in love again with Obama after he invited me over to his house.

The rekindling of our romance all started one evening, when I came home from work to find a beautiful invitation in the mail. I’m not sure how I knew it was from the White House. It’s not like Barack and I write to each other all that often, aside from some group e-mail policy briefings that go to only his closest 10,000 friends. But I could tell. It was the creamy white, classic, heavy paper, the beautiful calligraphy with my name properly spelled, and the giveaway: the return address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I opened it up to find an invitation to Barack and Michelle’s 3rd annual LGBT Pride Party, taking place just four weeks later on June 29. (Apparently, the six-week rule for formal invitations doesn’t apply to the White House.) I was invited to the biggest gay party of the year because I had gone to the White House earlier in Obama’s presidency for policy briefings on issues related to Israel. At the time, the administration was searching for a group of American Jewish leaders that would be an alternative to the ones that seemed to be handed to it by beltway insiders. Thirty other grassroots Jewish leaders and I were expected to provide the administration a different vision of, and better access to, segments of the American Jewish community that might be more sympathetic to Obama’s strategy on Israel and Palestine. I came as the LGBT activist in the room, founder of a national Jewish LGBT organization, now part of Keshet, and was the only representative of that very important “swing vote,” the LGBT Jewish constituency....

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