John McCain: Exemplar of Jewish Values

 In Contemporary Life

Senator John McCain


“How mighty ones have fallen.”  (II Samuel 1:25)  John McCain served the people of Arizona as our elected representative in Washington, DC, for over 40 years.  The memory of the righteous is for blessing.  He will be remembered for his dedication to duty, continuing his family’s legacy of military service that dated to the Revolutionary War.  As a young officer, McCain demonstrated an inspiring sense of duty and courage.  The spirit that forged him in his early years, came to be his hallmark throughout his life.  His courage is a humbling example for every American citizen.

In Pirke Avot 5:22, the Sages describe the characteristic of each decade of life.  “Eighty – power, or strength (gevurah).”  John McCain died at the age of 81, truly a man for whom strength was a defining characteristic.  His strength of conviction, his perseverance in the face of adversity, his raw tenacity.  As a national leader, power is certainly a quality we associate with Senator McCain.   In his later years, John McCain found his prophetic voice, fiercely speaking truth to power.  As Jews, we can only admire this example of questioning authority and accepting any consequences.  We are a people for whom asking questions is a cultural phenomenon.  John McCain was never afraid to ask hard questions.

As a survivor of torture while imprisoned for 5 ½ years during the Vietnam War, McCain was a force to be reckoned with in prohibiting the use of torture by US government forces.  This highly decorated veteran leveraged his credentials and credibility to create more humane policies.  His moral voice will continue to resound for many, many generations.

In 2002, Senator McCain published a book entitled, Worth the Fighting For.  We toast “L’Chayim- to Life,” the ultimate value worth fighting for.  With his family steadfastly by his side, he has fought the battle of a lifetime against glioblastoma.  John McCain exemplified the principle of love of life.  He spent his final days in Sedona, where we can only imagine that the unique and breathtaking environment were a source of awe and comfort.  Much as he fought for life, he also leaves a role model for letting go and accepting when we have reached the end of our days.  “Americans,” he said, “never quit.”  John McCain did not quit.  He taught us one final lesson about appreciating life and yet achieving a dignified end on our own terms.

In his book, Character is Destiny, McCain wrote, “It is your character, and your character alone, that will make your life happy or unhappy.”  By his own standard, then, John McCain was blessed with a happy life.  May it be so for all of us and may he rest in peace- Amen.


Rabbi Bonnie Koppell


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