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The Schmooze

Here’s what the Jews of the Biden-Harris clans did, said and wore on Inauguration Day

President Joe Biden, who took office on Wednesday morning, is not Jewish. Neither is Vice President Kamala Harris.

But between the two of them, they have an astonishing collection of Jewish relatives — most of whom schlepped to Washington, D.C., statement coats in tow, for the presidential inauguration.

Harris is married to Forward-certified “hot Jewish dad” Doug Emhoff, who for months has been raring to take up his role as “second mensch.” She goes by “Momala” to her two Jewish stepchildren, Ella and Cole Emhoff.

Meanwhile, all three of Joe Biden’s children — Beau and Hunter, his sons with his first wife, Neilia Biden, and Ashley, his daughter with current wife Dr. Jill Jacobs Biden — married members of the tribe, making the president-elect the grandfather of some pretty cute Jewish kids.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are no parades to cheer or ballgowns to admire. But we scoured livestreams and Instagram stories to keep you updated on what the Jewish members of the first and second families did, said, and (of course) wore to this historic event.

For those close to the president and vice president, pared-down festivities began the night before the inauguration. Ahead of a memorial ceremony for victims of COVID, the younger generation of the Biden and Harris clans had a chance to mingle. On Instagram Meena Harris, the vice president’s niece, posted a snapshot of Cole and Ella Emhoff mugging with Naomi Biden in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Later that night, Harris and Emhoff accompanied the Bidens to the reflecting pool outside the Lincoln Memorial, where 400 lamps commemorated the 400,000 Americans lost during the pandemic. One of the first official inauguration events, the ceremony included Yolanda Adams’ (perhaps ill-chosen) performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Most news networks began their inauguration coverage midway through Wednesday morning, but followers of Meena Harris got some sartorial scoops ahead of time. On her Instagram story, the second niece (can we make this a thing?) posted a snapshot of herself and Ella Emhoff in similar prairie-style, floor-length gowns. Ella, a junior at Parsons School of Design whose Instagram is full of handmade knitwear, had speculated about knitting her own suit, but ended up opting for a whimsical creation by Jewish designer Batsheva Hay. “This wasn’t planned but I’m very excited about it!!” Meena wrote.

Knitwear suits were never on the table (we’re pretty sure) for Cole Emhoff, who appeared in a striped tie at a Catholic mass at Washington, D.C.’s Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. It’s customary for the president-elect to attend a religious service before being sworn in, and Biden Harris made it a family affair. Cole and Ella were stationed at a safe distance from Doug, whose restrained Ralph Lauren suit allowed Harris’s diplomatic purple coat to shine. The Vice President’s ensemble was one of the inauguration’s simpler ones, but she accessorized meaningfully with a strand of pearls that nodded to her membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first Black Greek-letter sorority.

Not even the youngest members of the Biden clan were exempt from pre-inauguration worship. As churchgoers flooded onto the street, Hunter Biden and Melissa Cohen provided a rare glimpse of their 10-month-old baby boy, whose name remains unknown to the public, in a plaid coat and retro blue bonnet.

As befitted an inauguration centered around open-air events, outwear was key this year. Ella wore a bedazzled plaid coat that, though designed by Miu Miu, looked like one of her own creations.

Ella Emhoff arrived in a bedazzled coat.

Ella Emhoff arrived in a bedazzled coat. Image by Getty

We expected no less than to see Ella dubbed “first daughter of Bushwick” by Twitter, but Natalie Biden was probably the morning’s surprise hit. The 16-year-old daughter of Beau Biden and Hallie Olivere has historically kept a low profile, but on Wednesday she was very much one of the big kids, arriving swaddled in a candy-pink coat with serious Jackie Kennedy vibes.

On the other end of the spectrum was Senator Bernie Sanders, who sported his signature Vermont-schoolteacher-made mittens. If his parka looks familiar to you, that’s because it’s one that appeared in the now-infamous “I am once again asking” meme that went viral during his presidential campaign. Is Bernie related to Joe Biden or Kamala Harris? No, not that we know of. Do his mittens have their own Twitter account? Yes, they most certainly do.

Bernie’s characteristically low-key attire spawned a record number of tweets, but his extremely high practical-dad-with-poor-circulation energy was matched by Janet Yellin’s literal blanket and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s fleece Planned Parenthood scarf.

The first part of the inauguration ceremony was dominated by non-Jewish sartorial statements. Jennifer Lopez appeared in a garment we can only describe as a cravat. Lady Gaga wore Hunger Games-style brooch and a hoop skirt that enforced social distancing restrictions. Michelle Obama rocked a maroon power suit that contrasted triumphantly with the more, um, muted red ensemble she wore to Donald Trump’s inauguration.

But our favorite members of the tribe came to the fore when it came time for the oaths of office. Doug proudly stood by as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered Harris’s oath of office, holding a Bible that belonged to a longtime friend. As Harris officially became the first female, Black, and Asian vice president, he became the first man to hold the title “Second Gentleman.”

That is one very supportive husband.

That is one very supportive husband. Image by Getty

A few minutes later, Biden’s children and grandchildren gathered around to see him sworn in. Just before the new president laid his hand on a five-inch thick family Bible, Hunter’s baby boy could be heard fretting in the background.

President Joe Biden was surrounded by family as he took the oath of office.

President Joe Biden was surrounded by family as he took the oath of office. Image by Getty

After the ceremony ended, Doug stood with Harris on the Capitol steps, waving as Mike and Karen Pence departed the inauguration. It wasn’t the first time a man in a black suit performed this ritual, one of the fundamental symbols of a peaceful transfer of power.

But it was the first time he was there to support his wife.

Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff.

Image by Getty

Irene Katz Connelly is a staff writer at the Forward. You can contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @katz_conn.

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