I've had a very good fifty-three weeks or so for political speeches. On November 3 of last year, I was able to see Obama's last speech of the campaign, in front of 80,000 people in Virginia. Amazing. On January 20, I was downtown for the Inauguration and heard the speech, though I couldn't see him. One of the top days of my life. Today, I was able to see two of the great recent Jewish leaders, Natan Sharansky and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is, of course, the current Prime Minister of Israel. He spoke about the peace process and some other issues facing Israel, including the work to make the world less dependent on oil (and therefore funnel less money to Arab states) and the hope for Jewish religious pluralism in Israel (which is too complicated an issue to go into here but a very important one to me personally). Netanyahu, who lived in the US for a long time, has no accent to his English.
On the other hand, Sharansky, the new head of the Jewish Agency for Israel (the top funding agency in the country), is very hard to understand with his thick-as-pea-soup Russian accent. He is, however, the more impressive Jewish leader. Sharansky was jailed for eight years in Siberia for speaking out about human rights violations in the Soviet Union and for proclaiming his Jewish identity. He was the face of the American Jewish community's push to free the Soviet Jews and let them practice their religion. I'll link to his wikipedia page, because I can't possibly do his story justice. To not only see him, but to see him on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, was a great honor.
So I'll leave with a quick story of what a crazy day it was. I was trying to find a colleague to grab dinner and, walking through the lobby of the hotel, saw a bunch of men moving quickly through the far side of the room. I walked over to find out that I had just missed Ehud Barak, the current Israeli Minister of Defense and former PM. As I stood there, Sharansky walked right past me. What a day.