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Speeches of a Lifetime

Nehemiah Horowitz

Whatever you think about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress this week — and the issue has certainly created divisions among the Jewish People — it is beyond dispute that leaders of the past have acted similarly, defying their detractors and even mystifying their supporters.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Even in the age of the sound bite, truly great speeches still carry the power to move minds and mountains, to effect real change. And the timing of this speech is uncanny. As Netanyahu said before he set out to Washington: “A few days before the Fast of Esther, I am leaving for Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission. I feel that I am the emissary of all Israelis, even those who disagree with me — of the entire Jewish People. I am deeply and genuinely concerned for the security of all Israelis, for the fate of the nation, and for the fate of our People, and I will do my utmost to ensure our future.” In the spirit of the days, we went searching for great speeches of the past that have defined a moment, managed to change policy, and succeeded even in the face of great opposition — speeches that have rallied a people behind a cause and managed to change minds by the force of their ideas. Even if those ideas were unpopular   1. The Revolution’s Rallying Cry Speaker: Patrick Henry Location: Virginia Convention, Richmond, Virginia Date: March 23, 1775   The words of Patrick Henry — “Give me liberty, or give me death!” — are famous as an expression of the all-out ardor associated with the American Revolution. The impact of the speech, which galvanized support for the revolution, had as much to do with its timing as its eloquence. Henry, an attorney and politician, spoke at a convention of Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress in 1775. Massachusetts had just been declared in rebellion against Britain, fighting had broken out, and the Virginians had to decide which side they were on. Specifically, he made a proposal to organize a volunteer militia in every county of the colony in order to resist the British tyranny. According to the historian Paul Johnson (A History of the American People), at the conclusion of his hour-long oration, as he uttered the words, “Give me liberty!” he flung out his arms; then paused, lowered his arms, clenched his right hand as if holding a dagger to his chest, and said in sepulchral tones, “Or give me death!” Today, the style might be considered rather over the top, but in those days, it was just the thing. A long silence followed as the message sunk in.EdwardCarrington, a future hero of the Revolution, who was listening, was so moved that he asked to be buried on that spot. In 1810, he was. And the drafter of the Virginia Declaration of Rights,GeorgeMason, attested, “Every word he says not only engages but commands the attention, and your passions are no longer your own when he addresses them.”

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