A great loss

For all his passion, Tom Lantos never used "human rights" as a means to discredit others, but rather, to empower the good.

lantos, tom 88 (photo credit: )
lantos, tom 88
(photo credit: )
JPost.com exclusive Everything Tom Lantos did, he did with dignity, passion, and eloquence. With his passing this month, America, and indeed the entire free world, has lost one of its most exemplary and inspiring leaders - a politician whose life will always serve as a beacon of morality and integrity. He celebrated all that was good in a person. As the US moves forward in an election season, which is likely to be as combative as any prior, the candidates would therefore be well-served to use his life and legacy as an iconic example of what true leadership is all about. For this man who rose to the very heights of the American politic was able to do so through campaigns built not upon personality or an individual's ambition - but rather on what he knew would be truly best for the American people. Over the years, my wife and I were given the tremendous honor to develop a close and warm friendship with Tom and his remarkable wife, Annette. They have graced our table with thoughtful and lively discussion, for many Shabbat breakfasts, several birthdays, and even Pesach Seder - times we will always cherish. Through the gentle and measured tones of his strong Hungarian accent, he would elaborate on his impressions of the world and history and the issues of today, and we understood that we were in the presence of a true moral giant. The bitter earlier years of his life, where he survived the very worst of humanity in the Holocaust, would inspire his lifelong commitment to human rights and social justice. Yet he was far more than just a survivor - he was a warrior in the best sense of the term. With seemingly tireless spirit and enthusiasm, he traveled the US and the globe, dedicating himself and his nation to causes combating hatred, persecution and intolerance. Yet, for all his passion, he never used "human rights" as a means to discredit others, but rather, to empower the good. When the Durban Conference against Racism in 2001 attempted almost exclusively to denigrate Israel rather than resolve serious human rights issues around the world, Tom was wise enough to see through this façade and became one of the more vocal opponents of the Conference. His commitment to the Jewish people manifested itself best in this love for Israel, a land he visited countless times and one he steadfastly defended in the halls of Congress. He reached across the aisle to build bipartisan support for resolutions, and spoke out from podiums all over the world. His friendship with the people and nation of Israel stemmed from a strong belief that this modern Jewish State promoted tolerance and understanding, and was the ultimate symbol of victory over anti-Semitism that had robbed him of his family and so nearly cost him his life. Impressive and especially significant for the campaign season ahead, was the fact that Tom never spoke disparagingly of others, even when he truly believed that his opponents were in the wrong. While he was a passionate and unwavering advocate for the causes he backed, he refrained from lowering himself to personal attacks. He knew that politics was meant to be about the issues and policies, and not the about the personalities who were advancing them. There is little doubt that in the weeks and months ahead, the candidates will feel the compulsion to resort to personal disparagement, and make unkind jabs at their opponents. While this makes for dramatic television and soundbytes for the newspapers, such actions question the very ideals of leadership which made Tom stand shoulders above many of his colleagues. While Tom Lantos will be sorely missed by all those who were blessed to have known him, the long campaign which lies ahead serves as an ideal opportunity for his legacy to be firmly and proudly embraced.