(photo credit: Courtesy)
President-and vice president-elect Barak Obama and Joe Biden will be there - and so will Ariel Lang, a 22-year-old resident of a small settlement near Jerusalem, who has been officially invited to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington on January 20.
But Lang, who immigrated from Chicago to Israel as a child and thinks that US President George W. Bush "wants to destroy Israel," voted by absentee ballot for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Lang, who lives with his parents and two siblings in the Rimonim settlement, says he is a peaceable, quiet type, and only if he encounters people who speak out against Israel's actions in Gaza will he speak up.
"If somebody makes a verbal attack, be my guest... I won't initiate [a debate], but if the subject of the war in Gaza comes up, I will answer."
Five years ago, Lang was one of only nine Israelis and 350 young people worldwide selected as a member of the Congressional Youth Leadership Council's Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington and New York.
This entitles him to be invited to attend the University Presidential Inaugural Conference (UPIC) in Washington as well as Obama's inauguration.
Lang, who is paying his own way, is flying to the US on Friday and will stay at the same hotel as other Global Young Leaders during the events.
He has never had time to attend Global Young Leaders occasions held in various parts of the world since the initial event in Washington in 2003.
"One time I was in the IDF, and another time I wanted to study," he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. While he voted against Obama, Lang said: "He doesn't have a lot of experience, but he could learn, and we'll have to learn who he is."
Lang, who has serious learning disabilities, served in an IDF tank unit and then in military intelligence. Before being drafted, he was mainstreamed in regular schools, including Jerusalem's prestigious Rene Cassin Junior High School, even though his learning difficulties ("not attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder") require him to "go over material 10 times" that someone else would have to read once.
At Rene Cassin, he was regarded as a youth leader because his activism led to the change of two school policies, one regarding the kind of music that could be broadcast on the school's radio show, and another that allowed teachers to smoke on school grounds.
During the Global Young Leaders Conference, he had difficulty, as an Israeli whose passport was issued in Jerusalem, entering the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington with his conference peers.
"In the end, the organizers made it possible and I was allowed in," he recalls.
"Nobody spoke against me, but some gave me dirty looks, as an Israeli," said Lang, who wears a brown goatee but no kippa and describes himself as a "secular Jew" who keeps kosher.
He does not plan to dance at a black-tie inaugural ball to which he has been invited because he "doesn't know how," and he says he will be sure to "eat vegetarian."
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