Tomorrow we remember the life and tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
His life, his message and his death helped shape my worldview in important ways as it did for my entire generation. His inaugural address was heard as a call to action, and as a reminder of a sacred obligation. I took it very seriously, and his voice resonated as we struggled to shape the destiny of our nation and our world in the decades that followed.
The idea that we can change the world and affect our destiny also shapes my understanding of our role with regard to the fate and destiny of our Jewish people. Rabbi Soloveitchik (z”l) reminded us that we are not a nation of fate destined to fail based on our tragic history but rather a people of destiny pulled into the future by a vision of a Jewish people that has fulfilled its spiritual destiny and a world that has been healed as foretold by our prophets and declared by our mysterious God.
The recent Pew study on Jewish life in America projected a tragic fate and an end of our 3,500 year old tradition and our role in the conversation among civilizations. But we are not a nation of fate. We are a people of destiny.
I’ve highlighted the parts of President Kennedy’s inaugural address that speak most powerfully to me and that I believe can also speak to the next generation of our Jewish people. If we change a few words it is also a powerful message to our people:
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending and renewing our people in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our people and all our future generations—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.