Like many of you, I met the news of President Bush’s passing with a healthy tinge of sadness. President Bush had lived a full and robust life and passed away in his mid 90’s, so in no way was this a tragedy, but at the same time he was a figure who was easy to have a certain level of affection and respect for. President Bush ran for office during my later teen years, and I remember in 1988 at the age of sixteen what an impression he left on me. That continues to be true these thirty years later.
That impression came about for three reasons:
(1) He was a person who always felt uncomfortable speaking about himself and deflected attempts to give him credit or to make him the center of the story. Tom Brokaw records in The Greatest Generation that it was near impossible to get him to speak about getting shot down in WWII or to speak about his impressive war record. This modesty, which he attributed to his mother, was so refreshing, especially in a cultural and political milieu which is so often self seeking and ego driven.
(2) It was evident until the last days of Barbara’s life what type of relationship the two of them had and what type of connection they had with their children and grandchildren. While one never knows the truth that lies behind closed doors, it always moved me to see the leader of the free world who at the same time seemed to have a healthy, normal and loving family life.
(3) President Bush was raised in great wealth in Greenwich Connecticut and had his future successfully paved for him, but yet proactively signed up for the Navy instead of waiting to be drafted. He struck it rich as a Texas oil man but yet dedicated most of his life to serving his country. There was a real palpable sense of duty, honor, self sacrifice and a commitment to the greater good. These weren’t just words to get elected but a code of tikkun olam that he fully believed in and embodied.
In thinking about the efforts of the Maccabees and of the thousands of young Jewish men and Jewish women who have been infused with this same sense of purpose and fighting for a cause greater than oneself, I find myself both grateful for that sacrifice and hopeful that our children and grandchildren’s generation will be infused with that same spirit. I’m hopeful that kids today both Jewish and non-Jewish, both in Torah and non Torah endeavors, continue to hear a call to serve a community, to live a life of purpose beyond our own interests and to be willing to meaningfully sacrifice for the greater good.
If we are collectively successful in this chinuch we can hope to emulate great men and women who have come before us and can continue to be transformed by the miraculous light of the menorah and of our history which that radiance represents.
by Rabbi Joshua Blass