New York - His list of accomplishments was long and prolific: the most senior senator in the United States senate as well as the second longest serving senator in American history, the highest ranking Asian-American politician in the country, an undefeated elected official in the state of Hawaii since it declared statehood and recipient of numerous awards and citations including the World War II Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star Medal and two Purple Hearts.
Video below by Shimon Gifter: Events with Sen. Inouye with the Jewish community.
But for American Jewry Senator Daniel Inouye, who passed away yesterday in Washington at age 88, will be remembered as perhaps one of the greatest allies that both the Jewish people and the State of Israel have ever had.
Inouye, who lost his right arm during World War II, first became interested in Judaism while recovering in the hospital from injuries he sustained during the war. After hearing about the genocide that transpired during the Holocaust he began to study Jewish history and after the State of Israel was created in 1948, Inouye became a registered Israel Bonds salesman without commission. Inouye identified so strongly with the Jewish people that at age 27 he wanted to convert to Judaism, but was convinced not to follow through with his plans by his mother, Hyatoro Inouye, a staunch Methodist.
The loss of his arm forced Inouye to abandon his dream of becoming a surgeon and instead he turned to politics. After graduating from law school in 1953 he served first in the Hawaii territorial House of Representatives, then the Hawaii territorial Senate, finally winning a seat as a congressman and taking office on the same day that Hawaii achieved statehood. Inouye moved on to the senate in 1962 and became part of the powerful Appropriations Committee, responsible for allocating federal funds, in 1971. During his over forty years on the committee, he became known as a staunch ally of both the Jewish people and Israel, finally becoming the chairman of the full Senate Appropriations Committee in 2009.
During his time on the Appropriations Committee, Inouye often worked with philanthropist Zev Wolfson on behalf of Israel, refinancing loans at lower interest rates and, on occasion, turning loans into grants. The pair were also instrumental in helping Israel secure Patriot missiles during the Gulf War to defend against Scud missile attacks.
“I met Senator Inouye numerous times in the home of Zev Wolfson with whom he was very close,” recalled Abe Biderman, chairman of Shuvu. “He learned a lot about Yiddishkeit from Zev and it is ironic that they both passed away in the same year. What was striking about Senator Inouye was that here was someone from Hawaii who had few Jewish constituents, but his ahavas yisroel was unbelievable. He was involved in getting hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel and after the first war in Iraq, when it didn’t pay to transport weapons back to America, those weapons were given to Israel. He was involved in making that happen and he did that throughout his very lengthy career. As a friend of Israel, Senator Inouye was number one, all the way until the very end.”
“Senator Inouye was in a category all by himself,” said Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group. “None of the usual platitudes pertain to him. His support of the Jewish people, as well as the State of Israel, was born out of a deep connection that emanated from his soul.”
According to reports in the Jerusalem Post, Inouye’s alliance with Israel was so strong that the powerful Democrat recently warned that an attack against Israel was equivalent to an attack against the United States.
“If one looks at most of this world, especially the Middle East, one country stands out as a foundation of stability and as a pillar of democracy,” said Inouye. “And at a time like this, when you have revolution in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan, thank God we have Israel.”
Chaskel Bennett, a member of the board of trustees for Agudath Israel of America, met Senator Inouye at an Agudath Israel mission in Washington DC in July of 2008 and recalled how the senator truly believed that supporting Israel was a sound fiscal move for America.
“We knew that the senator was a bona fide American war hero, having lost his arm in World War II and was still serving his country late into his eighties,” said Bennett. “But the way and manner in which he spoke about the Jewish people and the State of Israel was simply inspiring. Senator Inouye said he believed that Israel was America’s most important ally in the Middle East and he backed it up in the senate with enormous financial support as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He explained that if America would have to establish military bases in the Middle East it would cost us billions of dollars to maintain them and with Israel as our ally there was no need to do so. Senator Inouye was firm in his declaration that investing in Israel was investing in America and he believed in the Jewish people. His principled voice and his decency will be sorely missed, especially by our community.”
Despite his many efforts on behalf of both Jews and Israel, Inouye never sought to be recognized for his accomplishments.
“He was a true anav in every respect,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “He didn’t boast, wasn’t a grandstander and was respected because of his competence. At a time when the Middle East was in turmoil, having a voice of sanity and consistency like his was just what we needed.”
“Senator Inouye was a powerful man who supported Jewish causes and Jewish concerns,” added Friedlander. “He had deep, deep ties within the Jewish community where he was treated with reverence. Senator Inouye was truly like family and this is a great, great loss which will be mourned by the entire Jewish community .”
In an official statement released by Agudath Israel of America, Senator Inouye was remembered for his loyalty to Jewish people worldwide.
“Senator Daniel Inouye will be sorely missed. Throughout his long and distinguished career in the U.S. Senate, he showed time and again his deep care for the wellbeing of the Jewish people, here in the United States, in Israel and across the globe. Our community worked closely with him, and benefited greatly from the relationship. His commitment to Jewish causes was a matter of personal conviction, not political expediency. The expression is trite and terribly overused in the context of politics, but in Senator Inouye’s case it is absolutely apt: He was a true friend.”
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