Tributes to George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States who died on Friday, continued to pour, in as Jewish groups and leaders issued statements at the end of Shabbat on Saturday evening
The Republican Jewish Coalition described Bush as an “American hero” and “a great friend of Israel, the Jewish people, and the RJC.” The group joined many others in noting the work Bush did to help bring Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia to Israel, as well as his actions to help ensure the safety of Israel.
“He led the effort in the UN to repeal the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution; and he stood up to the aggression of Saddam Hussein, who threatened the safety and security of Israel and the entire Middle East,” read the RJC’s statement.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, also eulogized the former president, saying, “He was always a true friend to Israel and the Jewish people, taking a stand against PLO terrorism and proving instrumental in helping saving tens of thousands of Jews.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday hailed Bush for his efforts to boost Israeli security and for helping Jews immigrate from the Soviet Union.
“The people of Israel will always remember his commitment to Israel’s security, his important contribution to the liberation of Soviet Jewry and his efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East at the Madrid Conference,” Netanyahu said in a statement after the end of the Jewish sabbath.
The prime minister also remembered Bush as a “great American patriot” and praised his “wise leadership” at the end of the Cold War, which “helped steer the world to a peaceful transition and the spread of democracy.”
President Reuven Rivlin also issued a statement on Saturday evening, praising Bush for his help in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel and for his “determination to ensure the Arab world recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told of his personal gratitude for Bush’s hard work to secure his release from a prison in the Soviet Union.
“I will forever remember his stubborn struggle to allow my immigration to Eretz Israel,” Edelstein said.
Bush, who died late Friday at his Houston home at age 94, is to be honored with a state funeral at National Cathedral in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, followed by burial Thursday on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M.
In Washington, the former Republican president won praise from leaders of both parties.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan lauded him for leading the nation with “decency and integrity,” while Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was a “privilege to work with him.”
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said Bush “befriended political foes, reminding Americans that there is always more that unites us than divides us.”
At the G-20 summit in Argentina, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was raised in then-divided East Germany, told reporters she likely would never have become her country’s leader had Bush not pressed for the nation’s reunification in 1990.
A humble hero of World War II, Bush was just 20 when he survived being shot down during a bombing run over Japan. He had enlisted in the US Navy on his 18th birthday.
Shortly before leaving the service, he married his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, a union that lasted until her death earlier this year.
After military service, Bush enrolled in Yale University, where he would become a scholar-athlete, captaining the baseball team to two College World Series before graduating Phi Beta Kappa after just 2 ½ years.
After moving to Texas to work in the oil business, Bush turned his attention to politics in the 1960s, being elected to his first of two terms in Congress in 1967. He would go on to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee before being elected to two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
Soon after he reached the zenith of his political popularity following the liberation of Kuwait, the US economy began to sour, however, and voters began to believe that Bush, never a great orator, was out of touch with ordinary people.
He lost his bid for re-election to then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, who would later become a close friend. The pair worked together to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton of all people?” he joked in 2005.
Clinton said he would be “forever grateful” for that friendship.
Former president Barack Obama tweeted that America has lost a “patriot and humble servant.”