Skip To Content

Rabbi Chosen To Give Invocation Before Obama’s Acceptance Speech

Washington — A leading Reform rabbi will deliver a prime-time invocation at the Democratic National Convention on the day of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center in Washington, will give his invocation in front of an expected crowd of 70,000 at Invesco Field and millions of television viewers.

The choice of Saperstein is part of a broader attempt by organizers of Democratic convention to highlight participation of faith groups at the event and to open the political forum to religious groups. A record number of seven rabbis will take part in events surrounding the convention, representing the entire spectrum of Jewish religious life.

“This shows how critical the party and the campaign believe the Jewish community is in the upcoming elections and in the future,” said Matt Dorf, who coordinates Jewish outreach efforts for the Democratic National Committee.

Saperstein’s invocation will open the last day of the Democratic convention, when Obama will give his main speech and officially kick off the presidential campaign.

After Obama’s speech, Pastor Joel Hunter, an evangelical from Northland, Fla., will deliver the closing benediction. Invocations on other days will come from a Greek Orthodox archbishop, a Catholic nun and a Methodist couple.

Organizers of the convention had decided last month to move the final night’s events from Denver’s convention center to the Invesco Field football stadium in order to reach an even larger crowd.

Saperstein has headed the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for 34 years. He has led the formation of numerous interfaith coalitions on both domestic and foreign policy issues and has recently played a leading role in the effort to raise interest in the Darfur genocide.

The decision to choose Saperstein for the key invocation at the convention was made by party officials both at the Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago and by convention organizers on the ground in Denver.

“Saperstein is the right person to talk about the intersection of faith and politics,” said a Democratic official, who added that the choice will also serve as recognition of the centrality of the Jewish community in the campaign.

Rabbi Saperstein told the Forward that his participation in the event should not be viewed as an expression of support for either of the political parties.

“In both the Democratic and Republican conventions there are thousands of people whose sole focus is on making America better,” he said. “It is perfectly appropriate for them to ask for God’s blessing and God’s guidance. I don’t see it as a partisan issue.”

A statement issued August 18 by the Democratic National Convention said that the purpose of religious invocations at the beginning of every session was “to raise up in a non-partisan manner the moral challenges facing the country and to pray that the country’s leaders have the wisdom and courage to resolve them.”

Six other Jewish religious leaders will take part in convention events, among them Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, who will share the stage at an interfaith event with Christian and Muslim religious leaders. The Orthodox community is considered to be one of the few Republican strongholds among Jewish voters. A Gallup poll published early July found that observant Jews are more likely to vote for John McCain than for Obama in the November elections.

Weinreb said in a statement that he views the decision to invite him to the convention as “the Democratic Party’s ‘endorsement’ of the critical role religious faiths play in American life.”

Democrats are emphasizing in this year’s convention the role of faith groups and have even set up a first-ever faith caucus, which will be holding meetings throughout the week.

The Republicans have yet to announce their plans for faith groups’ participation in their convention, which will take place a week after the Democratic one.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

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.