Why is this speech different from all other speeches?

Unless you have been living off the grid for the past couple of months, you have certainly heard your fair share of opinions and debate about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to congress tomorrow.

Let me say this for starters. Regardless of where you stand on partisan politics, America’s stance on Iran, or who should be the next Prime Minister of Israel, it cannot be ignored that the biggest winner of “the speech” has been the Jewish people as a whole. This speech has raised the level of Jewish engagement about an issue so pertinent to the Jewish people to an unprecedented level.

While I don’t believe this was the intention from the onset, it has, to me as a rabbi in an area with a very high level of assimilation, become the most welcome development of the past few weeks. For years the experts have lamented the ever fading interest of the Jewish American (particularly youth) towards Judaism and Israel. Major Jewish organization have spent millions in rolling out campaigns to get youth involved in Judaism and Israel with mixed results.

And now, all of the sudden, teenagers who have never really cared much for the Israel discussion have suddenly taken notice, sharing their opinion and tweeting their thoughts. Now, not a day goes by when I, as a very visible Jewish Rabbi living in not so Jewish deep South Jersey, don’t meet a stranger on the street asking my opinion on the matter.

Looking at some of the top trends on twitter this morning:

#NetanyahuSpeech, #AIPAC2015 and #Israel all feature prominently. While I cannot say this scientifically, I would venture to guess that this level of engagement and this global participation is probably a first.  Finally our people have woken up. Of course there have always been activist out there making noise, but now the average lay person who feels positively about Israel but has remained on the sidelines is engaged.

In a world where the response to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel propaganda have been met with mostly silence from the wider community, this speech has forced the world in on the conversation.  Surely the events in France have struck a chord, but the hype surrounding this speech capitalized on that momentum and ensured that people take notice of the threat to Israel’s existence, thus forcing many to participate in the conversation about the course of action they feel will most benefit Israel.

Watching the Prime Ministers address to AIPAC this morning, perhaps he summed it up best when he said “The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us are OVER!”  I believe that regardless of where you stand on #thespeech let us make sure that the conversation continues to engage our people, youth in particular, as well as the rest of the world. Israel needs this PR and in the words of the 19th century British Prime Minister (who incidentally was Jewish) Benjamin Disraeli “Without publicity there can be no public support, and without public support every nation must decay.”

About the Author
Rabbi Avi Richler is the Executive Director of Chabad of Gloucester County, NJ.
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