Nov 5, 2008 0:29 | Updated Nov 5, 2008 12:27 Obama mentor: Barack has a 'yiddishe nishama' By YAAKOV KATZ Chicago When Abner Mikva entered the lobby of his lakeside apartment building to vote on Tuesday morning, he wasn't surprised by the long voting line stretching down the hallway. Abner Mikva next to an Obama poster with "Yes we can" written in Hebrew. Photo: Yaakov Katz Slideshow: Obamamania 2008 In the 2004 elections, there was no line at all. "People are excited," Mikva told The Jerusalem Post as he stood in line to vote. "This election has people more involved." Mikva knows a thing or two about elections. At 82, he is an elder statesman in his Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. Sen. Barack Obama lives just up the street. Born in Wisconsin, Mikva went to the University of Chicago's Law School and served in the Illinois House of Representatives and in the US Congress from 1969 until 1979. He resigning his seat when president Jimmy Carter appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where he served until 1994. He then was White House counsel under president Bill Clinton until 1995. Mikva was something of a mentor to Obama as the Illinois state senator made his first move into national politics in 2000 in a failed bid for Congress. They became close friends several years earlier when they met on the University of Chicago campus where they were both teaching at the law school. Regarding concern in Israel about an Obama presidency, Mikva said that "Barack will be the first Jewish president in the US." "He has a yiddeshe nishama," Mikva said. "He is committed to Israel and its security concerns and understands that democratization does not happen by force but by example, and there is no better example in the Middle East than Israel." On Tuesday, Hyde Park was buzzing with activity. Police were blocking off streets and were deployed on every corner and alleyway around the Obama home, which is located right across the street from the KAM Isaiah Israel Temple, the oldest synagogue in the Windy City. Unusually long voting lines were recorded across Chicago. "After meeting him for the first time, I was immediately impressed by how smart and thoughtful Barack was," Mikva said. The two grew closer in 2000 when Mikva campaigned on Obama's behalf throughout Chicago. Obama failed to make it into Congress and Mikva said that one reason was that Obama didn't know how to speak to black audiences on the South Side. "He got clobbered in the black areas since he came across as a Harvard Law professor," he recalled, noting that by Obama's senate bid four years later, the state senator had come a long way as an orator. "When he spoke to black audiences in 2004 he had the rhythm and knew how to speak. He could have taught a thing or two to Dr. [Martin Luther] King." Mikva stayed in touch with Obama after he entered the Senate, serving as an informal adviser on his 2008 presidential campaign as well as on its finance committee. "As an older mentor to Obama, I always tried to transmit to him not to change his message and to be consistent," Mikva said. "Obama has stuck to this and is always consistent."
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