Famous speeches through the lens of Jewish texts: Michelle Obama's Farewell Address

Photo credit: Chuck Kennedy

Sarah Hurwitz is the Former Head Speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama and author of the newly released book: Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – In Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).

To order the book, click here.

To read an excerpt, click here.

I am a political speechwriter – one who had the good fortune to stumble back to Judaism later in life and discover that this tradition is filled with wisdom about how to be a good person, live a meaningful life, and find deep spiritual connection. Thousands of years of insight about what it means to be human had been here all along, just waiting to be discovered.

In this sourcesheet, I’m bringing together two of my passions – Judaism and speechwriting – to show how Jewish texts shed light on the issues we confront every day, both in our daily lives, and on a much broader scale.

To that end, I’ve chosen an excerpt from a speech given by my former boss, First Lady Michelle Obama: her final address in the White House, in which she spoke directly to the young people of America. And I’ve annotated this speech with references to relevant Jewish texts and offered some thoughts about what these texts mean.

Just click on the linked words to see the Jewish texts and my commentary:

The excerpt below begins at the 7:45 mark in the video.

Excerpt from First Lady Michelle Obama’s Farewell Address at the White House
January 6, 2017

For all the young people in this room and those who are watching, know that this country belongs to you – to all of you, from every background and walk of life.

If you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition - the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas, generation after generation, that has made us the greatest country on earth.

If your family doesn’t have much money, I want you to remember that in this country, plenty of folks, including me and my husband –- we started out with very little. But with a lot of hard work and a good education, anything is possible – even becoming President. That’s what the American Dream is all about.

If you are a person of faith, know that religious diversity is a great American tradition, too. In fact, that’s why people first came to this country – to worship freely. And whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh – these religions are teaching our young people about justice, and compassion, and honesty. So I want our young people to continue to learn and practice those values with pride.

You see, our glorious diversity — our diversities of faiths and colors and creeds — that is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are. So the young people here and the young people out there: Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter, or like you don’t have a place in our American story – because you do. And you have a right to be exactly who you are…

And when you encounter obstacles – because I guarantee you, you will, and many of you already have – when you are struggling and you start thinking about giving up, I want you to remember something that my husband and I have talked about since we first started this journey nearly a decade ago, something that has carried us through every moment in this White House and every moment of our lives, and that is the power of hope — the belief that something better is always possible if you’re willing to work for it and fight for it.

For more on Sarah Hurwitz's journey to Judaism, check out her interview with Hey Alma here.