Today marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which has been at the top of the news, interrupted my appearance on the Morning Blend TV show today, and has been at the top of every website and on the cover of seemingly every magazine. It was also, on Tuesday, the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which has received much less publicity. And this Shabbat we begin reading the great story of Joseph in the Torah and, on Wednesday we begin to celebrate Hanukkah, and on Thursday we hold the American festival of Thanksgiving. Frankly, there are just too many things to talk about tonight... but in a rather beautiful and meaningful way they all connect. And they are all about exploring unlimited potential—or really, seeking to fulfill your dreams, in a pragmatic way.
In 1961, the year of my birth, when the newly inaugurated young, handsome president John F. Kennedy told his energetic country, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what can you do for your country," he was unlocking the almost unlimited potential of a free, bold, and confident nation. His stirring vision—the words were in part those of his great speechwriter Ted Sorenson—was articulated in a way that struck a mystic chord, as Lincoln would have termed it.
"The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world...
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."
And JFK, symbolically, represented the hope of that then-young generation that had survived the Depression and won World War II. He unleashed the power of unlimited opportunity by portraying the American Dream of freedom in new and stirring ways: as a model of service, as an attempt to fulfill great ideals. We would fly to and land on the moon; we would conquer poverty and ignorance; we would end oppression and prejudice.