I am too young to remember much of the Ford presidency personally. Nevertheless, as I told Aaron, it is importnat to show respect for a man who served as President of our country. I went without a hat, as I wanted to be seen in line wearing my kippah. That people should see that American Jews care and feel ourselves part of the nation.
I had not, interestingly enough, felt the same way about Reagan's funeral. For one thing, I knew it would be a mob scene, with the devoted followers out in force. For another, I dislie being coopted to the political goals of others, especially those with whom I disagree. Everything about the Reagan funeral was meticulously planned by his accolytes and disciples to provide one grand exit and last gift to his ideological heirs. Consequently, I felt no reason to participate.
Ford, however, was another matter. I have heard unconfirmed reports that he did not actually want a state funeral, but was persuaded by his family to permit it as a matter of dignity to the office and a last service to the nation. To attend this viewing, therefore, was to show genuine respect to the man and to his achievements, and to honor his service to the country.
The rain was steady. Happily, the unseasonable warmth made the soaking rain bearable. The line moved swiftly. It was only about 30 minutes from the time I joined the line to the time I entered the rotunda.
Along the way, I had odd reflections. One thought is how casual we have become as a society. There was a time when one would not have attended a state viewing such as this in anything less than a suit for men and something at least at the level of "professional dress" for women. But it is no longer so. Even I (dress shirt and slacks) was under no delusion. And yet, given everything that is said abou Ford, it seems oddly fitting. Ford considered himself one of the ordinary folks, and in an honest rather than feigned fashion. At least, if what I have heard over the last several days is true.
Another reflection. I have travelled the path to the Capital and through the Rotunda on many occasions, typically en route to some event or briefing in the basement. While once awe-inspiring, I had ceased to notice. Today brought back some of the earlier reflection on what happens in this building, what it means, and how many famous and unkown have labored here. Some in honest service to what they believed was the greater good. Some as self-centered rogues and profiteers. And the vast majority, I expect, not nearly as selfless or selfish as we might imagine. Public service draws complex people, with a peculiar mixture of idealism, practicality, and the other motivations and emotions that make up humanity.
We entered the Rotunda. chattering ceased. Two lines circled the flag-drapped coffin. A motionless honor gaurd from each of the armed services stood in attendance. Outside, Navy gaurds were in greater numbers, honoring Ford's naval service. But in the chamber, all services stood equally in honor of the Commander in Chief.
My line terminated in front of Jack Ford, the President's grandson. He shook hands with each person and exchanged a personal greeting and thanks. When it was my turn, I said: "Will you permit me to exted a traditional Jewish prayer of comfort?" It is always polite to ask, and warn people you are about to jabber at them in a foreign language. And I imagine some might not feel comfortable.
"Certainly," he replied.
"Hamkaom yinachem etchem b'toch sha'ar aivailay tzion v'yerushaliyim," I said. I freely translated it as "May the Lord comfort you and your among the righteous of Zion."
"Are you a rabbi?" He asked.
"No sir," I answered.
"Then you have truly blessed me," he said. We shook hands, and I moved out of the Rotunda and into a neighboring hall where I signed the sympathy book, including the phrase in Hebrew and giving the longer, more literal translation. "May the Lord comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
Then I followed the flow of the crowd out, back into the rain, and made my way home.