Nov 5, 2008 0:29 | Updated Nov 5, 2008 12:27 
Obama mentor: Barack has a 'yiddishe nishama'

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 

"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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