The death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg this week is a loss for his family, for the nation and for the Jewish community. A member of the Senate for nearly three decades, an unapologetic liberal, a gruff legislator who was nonetheless described by his colleagues as a gentleman in an era when civility among partisans is increasingly becoming an anachronism, Sen. Lautenberg — at 89 the oldest member of the Senate — represented a historical memory that is hard to replace.
A product of a poor, immigrant household in Patterson, N.J., he was moved by his own experiences of deprivation to help improve the lot of America’s indigent citizens.
The last member of the Senate who served in the U.S. military during World War II, his political and communal activism was fueled by the sacrifices of a generation that fought for America in the last war that enjoyed national support.
A member of a disappearing generation that remembers a world without a State of Israel, he was inspired by the physical security that Israel offered within its borders to Jews after the Holocaust, and the emotional pride that Israel continues to offer to Jews everywhere.
Although I haven’t commented here on the recent passing of Senator Lautenberg, I have followed the tributes and eulogies. Growing up in the 1980s in New Jersey, I was one of his constituents, and I still recall him visiting our congregation during those years.
One of the tributes that impressed me most this week was one offered by The Jewish Week, which I’ve quoted above. You can find the full text here.