Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Culture

Biden cites Psalms and a songwriter of Jewish themes at inauguration

Joseph R. Biden, Jr. began his presidency with a speech urging American unity as we move forward through a dark season of disease and uncertainty. In his address, he cited both Scripture and an operatic anthem penned by a songwriter known for works based on the lives of Holocaust survivors.

Following a benediction by Father Leo O’Donovan, who paraphrased Solomon’s prayer to God for wisdom from II Chronicles, Biden stepped forward to address how America had overcome the Capitol siege and its challenge to democracy.

“At this hour my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said. “The American story depends not on any one of us — not on some of us — but on all of us.”

Calling on Americans to face the threats of white supremacy and extremism through common cause, Biden acknowledged the “dark winter” the country faces with the coronavirus and the hardships it has placed in the way of so many. But, he indicated that things may change.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” Biden said, quoting Psalms 30:5.

Biden expressed his confidence that America would overcome the challenges before it, and said that once we emerge from them, we will add a new chapter to the American story, a story he likened to the song “American Anthem” by Gene Scheer.

“There’s one verse that stands out, at least for me, that goes like this,” Biden said. “‘The work and prayers of centuries have brought us to this day. What shall be our legacy? What will our children say? Let me know in my heart, when my days are through, America, America I gave my best to you.”

Scheer wrote the song in 1998 and it was first performed by soprano Denyce Graves, who recently sang it as part of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memorial ceremony at the Capitol. In 2006, Norah Jones popularized her rendition, recorded for Ken Burns’ World War II documentary miniseries, “The War.”

As a librettist, Scheer is no stranger to that period. His work for the stage, with collaborator Jake Heggie, includes “Another Sunrise,” based on author and dissident Krystyna Zywulska’s story of survival in Nazi-occupied Poland and “Farewell Auschwitz,” based on free translations of Zywulska’s lyrics, composed during her time in the infamous concentration camp.

Scheer and Heggie also wrote “Out of Darkness: Two Remain,” about Zywulska and Gad Beck, a gay survivor of the Holocaust.

Biden made Scheer’s words a central part of his speech, saying, “Let us add our own work and prayers to the unfolding story of our great nation. If we do this, then when our days are through, our children and our children’s children will say to us, ‘They gave their best. They did their duty. They healed a broken land’”

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Engage

  • Events

    Haart to Haart

    Virtual

    Dec 7, 2022

    7 pm ET · 

    A conversation with Julia Haart and her son Shlomo, stars of Netflix's 'My Unorthodox Life,' about the new season and much more.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.