U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) speaks to the media, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of the unique blessings residents in Miami, Florida, have enjoyed for the past three decades has been our remarkable representative in Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She has served with wisdom, heart and courage to advance the well-being of our entire community and to protect untold numbers of people throughout the world where democracy and human rights have been threatened.
We will all lose an invaluable champion for justice and human rights in Congress when Rep. Ros-Lehtinen retires this year, but we eagerly wait to see what new, exciting and worthwhile endeavors she will undertake on behalf of those who need her voice and strength.
This month, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, or simply Ileana as she is known among her constituents and colleagues in Congress, received two honors that recognize her indispensable contributions: the honorary Woman of Valor Award from Temple Beth Am in South Miami, and recognition by the State of Israel, in commemoration of its 70 years of independence, as one of 70 Americans who have made “a uniquely valuable contribution to Israel or its alliance with the United States.” These honors are well-deserved, as we have learned first-hand working with Ileana on several issues of profound concern to the Jewish community.
First, Ileana has shown unparalleled leadership in supporting Holocaust survivors. She has taken on powerful business and political interests in the process, often at great political expense, and survivors and family members are very grateful for her commitment.
When Hungarian survivors were forced to sue the US government based on the Army’s wrongful taking of victims’ assets on the “Hungarian Gold Train” after WWII, the Justice Department stonewalled the case. Ileana changed the entire dynamic when she got involved. The result was millions of dollars to assist needy survivors around the world and a historic apology by the US government for the Army’s actions.
More recently, after unprecedented court decisions barring survivors from bringing lawsuits against global insurers that refused to honor life insurance policies they sold to Jewish families before the Holocaust, such as Allianz and Generali, Ileana drafted and fought for legislation to restore survivors’ rights despite opposition from the US State Department, special interest money and high-paid lobbyists. Ileana has never wavered in her support and has once again filed the Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act and has made it her mission to see this bill become law.
Finally, because of her close relationships with survivors in South Florida, Ileana is painfully aware that due to the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, survivors suffer from more severe physical and emotional problems, and have far greater levels of poverty, than other elderly. Ileana led a bipartisan effort to hold hearings on the subject of survivors’ needs in 2014. The US House of Representatives enacted a resolution in 2016, authored by Ileana, calling on the German government to provide comprehensive funding for all survivors’ medical, emergency, mental health and long-term care needs, with the Senate following suit on a similar measure. To this day, she continues to press Germany to fulfill this responsibility.
We are also very proud that Ileana is one of the most articulate and accomplished supporters of the Jewish community and the State of Israel in Congress. She is a founding co-chair of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism and has been an indispensable advocate for the US-Israel relationship. In fact, our friend, neighbor and local congressional representative is one of only 70 Americans to be recognized by Israel for her achievements in safeguarding the security of the democratic Jewish state and building an ever-stronger US-Israel relationship – the only sitting member of Congress to be so honored.
Ileana’s work on behalf of Israel and the US-Israel relationship is far too extensive to detail here. For over a decade, she has served as either the chairman or ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, or the chair of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. We can say with complete assurance that without Ileana’s leadership in Congress, Israel would not be as strong and safe as it is today.
Holocaust survivors, having experienced the ultimate manifestation of the breakdown of democracy and the rule of law, pay close attention to US foreign policy concerning democracy and human rights. Survivors, the Jewish community, and the pro-Israel community believe these issues should be addressed in a non-partisan way, based on principles of democracy, morality and respect for human rights. These are the principles that Ileana has championed, on a non-partisan basis, for her nearly 30 years in Congress, and we are proud to call her our congresswoman and our friend.David Schaecter, David Mermelstein, Herbert Karliner, Magda Bader, Joe Sachs, Wendy Rothfield and Alex Gross are Holocaust survivors, and Samuel J. Dubbin is counsel to the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA. All reside in Miami, Florida.