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Friday, 6 March, 2015 - 11:21 am

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, March 3, was powerful and enthusiastically received. It exemplified leadership in a way that Americans have not seen for years. The elected leadership of the US conspicuously displayed their awesome delight in the speech; somehow it restored their own dignity and faith in the role of America today. As a result of the Jewish Prime Minister of a tiny country speaking his mind with unwavering resolve, moral clarity and historical dignity, all those present in the gallery felt better about themselves and their own duties in a confused and bloody world.

The lesson for our times is clear. Sometimes Jews think that by hiding their Judaism they will gain the approval of the world. Yet the facts prove otherwise: Assimilation has never assuaged anti-Semitism. Tradition tells us that the Jews of Shushan (the capital of the Persian Empire at the time of the Purim story) were quite assimilated. Yet, this did not deter the Persian viceroy and king from believing that despite all of the Jews' compromises and attempts not to be "too Jewish," they were still strange, distinct and different.

This pattern has repeated itself in every milieu since. Never in history has assimilation solved the problem of Jew hatred. Jews in Germany were the most assimilated and integrated in mainstream society, yet it was in that very country where the worst Jew hatred in recent history sprouted.

Scores of great non-Jewish thinkers, sympathetic to Jews as well as to anti-Semites, saw in Jews and Judaism something different and extraordinary. John Adams wrote that "the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation." Hitler blamed the Jews for inventing the life-denying reality called conscience. Today, many academics and laymen believe that the Jews are responsible for the great conflict in today’s world. As much as we attempt to run from our identity as Jews, the non-Jewish world reminds us of who we are and where we came from. 

The solution for the Jewish people is therefore not to deny our Judaism. Rather, the Jew ought to embrace his or her Jewishness and, just like Esther, be proud with the lifestyle and moral ethic of Torah. When we learn how to embrace our Judaism with love and grace, it will become a source of admiration and inspiration for all of humanity.

The great Rabbi Chaim once remarked: "If a Jew doesn't Kiddush-i.e. sanctify himself by maintaining a distinctly Jewish lifestyle, then the non-Jew will make Havdalah for him-by making the Jew realize he is truly different."

Israel, for example, will never succeed in portraying itself to the world as “a regular country.” Its choice is either to run from its destiny or to embrace it, and thus become a source of pride for the entire world.

In this sense, Netanyahu’s address to Congress was a mesmerizing speech. The Prime Minister made, in my humble opinion, only one mistake. He completed his speech with these beautiful words: “Before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today: 'Chizku ve'imtzu,' 'Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them' (Deuteronomy 36:6)." The Prime Minister received a strong applause.

Netanyahu should have added the conclusion of the verse: “Ki A-donay Elokeycha…,” “because G-d your Lord is the One who is going with you, and He will not fail you or forsake you.” Had he included that part of the verse, his impact would have been double and the applause thundering. The US is a faith-based country; its founding fathers were inspired by the Hebrew Bible. As much as the US leaders cherished every word that came out of the Prime Minister’s mouth, they would have been deeply affected by a Jew who would inspire in them the core and root of American values and its resolve to protect innocent people everywhere from oppression and murder. They would have been comforted  by a Jewish leader expressing what lies in each of their hearts. Netanyahu himself did not realize how much more power and admiration he would have gained had he spoken as an ambassador of the people who had carried for millennia the torch of G-d, a G-d who cares first and foremost about how we treat each other.

The world admires Jews who admire their heritage and faith. The free world is craving this type of Jewish leadership—one that can allow humanity to unite with passion and resolve around a G-d that inspires life, liberty and happiness, rather than a god who evokes death, oppression and misery.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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