By Irv Blank
The death of John Warner was not unexpected. After all, he was 94 years of age.
The country and Virginia have both lost a great patriot and senator. Our-Jewish community as well the entire pro-Israel community has lost a loyal supporter and valuable ally.
I have lost a friend and mentor who was like an uncle to me for many years.
I first met John in 1978 when he became the Republican nominee for one of Virginia’s Senate seats. Our relationship began from my desire that, if elected, our new senator would have persons that he could rely on when issues involving Israel were being debated in the Congress and Executive branch of our government.
The vast majority of Virginia’s Jewish community supported Andy Miller, the Democratic nominee, including me.
But when John was thrust into the race in the summer of 1978, after Dick Obenshain died in an airplane crash while campaigning, I visited him and offered to help him with the Jewish vote.
The short race was filled with unusual events, especially our efforts to win Jewish votes, but in November John won the closest race in America as well as the closest race in Virginia’s history.
We communicated frequently during his first term. He always said the right things, but rarely voted for foreign aid, which was our most important issue.
He was receptive to meetings with AIPAC and local leaders and was always very cordial and supportive.
We argued constantly about his voting record and finally he announced that he was voting for foreign aid and from that time on, our relationship became one which I treasured.
He would call at all hours of the day to ask questions about the “Jewish/Israeli” view and included myself and others in our community as advisors on pending issues.
He lobbied President George H. W. Bush for loan guarantees for Israel and spoke to the large Virginia delegation that traveled to D.C. for the vote. He was tirelessly working behind the scenes to strengthen the US-Israeli relationship.
He was at the Israeli defense ministry in Tel Aviv when Iraqi scud missiles hit the building and he brought back a piece of shrapnel from one Iraqi missile for our community.
Major Aid Bill for Israel
He introduced the first major emergency aid bill for Israel after that attack and as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he championed the passage of the bill to finance the research and development of an anti-missile system that later became the Iron Dome system, which protects Israel to this day.
John Warner was from a time past when our elected officials were not wed to their party and exhibited independence and a determination to do the right thing, even at a personal political cost.
He was dashing, handsome, charming, articulate, but tough as could be when he needed to be. It did not hurt his career that he was married to one of, if not the most, glamorous movie star of the times. After meeting my mother at an event, he charmed her into admitting that he would be the first Republican she would have ever voted for, had she still lived in Virginia.
Sense of Class
His retirement from the Senate did not diminish the support that Israel enjoys from our two senators, but it did diminish the institution of the Senate. I would submit that regardless of your party affiliation, you must admit that Senator Warner brought a sense of class, dignity, and devotion to our country that is missing from many of the debates that we see in the Senate today.
I cannot remember him ever arguing for something that was fundamentally false or absurd and I can remember arguing many issues with him.
Personally, I will miss him as one misses a mentor. I referred to him as my rabbi in my efforts to support a strong US-Israel relationship and I am forever thankful that he was the leader we needed at crucial times in that relationship. I will miss the ice cream cone lunches and his sense of humor when he was teasing me.
Most of all, I will miss the steadfast support that he gave the nation state of the Jewish People when it was needed the most.
Rest in peace dear friend and know that your memory will be for a blessing to all.
Editor’s Note: Longtime community leader Irv Blank served as the Chair of the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee for many years and has held many other Jewish community leadership positions. He currently serves on the Federation Board.