Phoenix — Jews across the nation mourned the death of Arizona Sen. John McCain, a longtime friend of Israel, who died of brain cancer on Aug. 25.
“John was one of Israel’s biggest supporters and promoters,” said George Weisz, president of Weisz Ventures and Government Relations, who was McCain’s mentee. “He sponsored crucial legislation on a host of pro-Israel issues. John had a love for the land, people and spirit of Israel. He saw it as his obligation to ensure that Israel would always survive and thrive. Those continuous efforts were evident in the massive, diverse support he received from across the Jewish community.”
A sign of McCain’s dedication to Israel was seen the day after his death, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement that read in part, “His support for Israel never wavered. It sprang from his belief in democracy and freedom. The State of Israel salutes John McCain.”
Not surprisingly, national military veterans groups embraced McCain, a former Navy pilot who was shot down over Vietnam and tortured as a prisoner of war.
National Commander Barry S. Schneider of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA stated that “Sen. McCain will be sorely missed by the military and veterans community! He will always be remembered as a hero of our country.”
McCain’s life was already the stuff of legend long before he took his place in Congress.
In 1967, the young naval aviator’s plane went down over Hanoi and he spent more than five years in captivity. Despite an offer from the Viet Cong for an early release, McCain refused to go until prisoners who were captured before him were freed. After he returned home, he remained in the Navy until 1981, retiring as a captain. He moved to Arizona that year and in 1982 was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 1987, McCain succeeded longtime Sen. Barry Goldwater, a titan on the national political stage, leaving the junior senator with some large shoes to fill.
“John believed in the good of everyone, and he had some incredible friends in the Senate and the House who shared his dedication to civil discourse,” said Weisz, who served on the national committee for McCain’s presidential run in 2008. “However, he was disgusted by the current nasty atmosphere of politics and the toll it was taking on trying to get constructive work done for our citizens. His earlier reputation of being a ‘maverick’ came out again when he spoke the truth on issues and even challenged his own party, when needed, to do the right thing for the right reasons.”
In Phoenix’s Jewish community, McCain was seen as embodying some of the principles important to Jews.
“As Jews, we can only admire [his] example of questioning authority and accepting any consequences,” Temple Chai Associate Rabbi Bonnie Koppell said. “We are a people for whom asking questions is a cultural phenomenon. John McCain was never afraid to ask hard questions.”
Along with being recognized as a champion for Israel, he is also being remembered as a champion for the Diaspora.
“Throughout his political career, Sen. John McCain, of blessed memory, was a friend to Arizona’s Jewish community, the American Jewish community at-large and to Israel,” said Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash in Phoenix. “We owe him so much gratitude for the true care and attention he gave to Jewish needs around the world.”
A funeral service will be held at the Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 1. He will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on Sept. 2. l
Janet Perez is the managing editor of the Jewish News in Phoenix, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.