June 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Fond Farewell to Bergen County Favorite Son:Sen. Lautenberg Laid to Rest

New York—“God gives and God takes,” intoned Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, the late Senator Frank Lautenberg’s spiritual leader and friend, as he began a Jewish funeral unlike many others— and then mourners “ripped kriah—the symbolic ritual of tearing one’s garments, followed by Shema—the affirmation of faith.

“The spirit of Frank Lautenberg has passed into God’s hands,” said the Senior Rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue, Senator Lautenberg’s New York shul.  “Frank was a mensch through and through, a noble defender of right ideals.  Speaking to the Senator’s widow, Bonnie Englehart Lautenberg, he assured her, “We are here to support you.”  Rabbi Cosgrove described the Senator as “not one to look back, but to be aware… a man who could interact with kings but never lost the common touch, and remained aware of his commitments, and never lost the common touch. “Frank emitted the comfort of a life well-lived.”

Rabbi Dan Cohen of the Lautenberg’s New Jersey temple, called the Senator an “iconic figure who used his success to do good in the world…his memory, said the rabbi, shall be as a constellation.”

The Senator’s daughters, son, and step-daughters recalled the Senator as “confident and determined,” a man who “owned” every room he entered, who ended arguments with “I love you,” and built a strong foundation for his family.  “Your legacy lives on in our thirteen grandchildren.

The grandchildren call him “Poppa.” Several are young adults, some still children.  They remembered a grandfather with “a story for everything,” who gave “constant guidance,” and taught the importance of hard work, dedication and bagels on Sunday morning.  “Be brave,” wished his nine year old granddaughter.

The words of his colleague, Senator Robert Menendez, recalled Lautenberg as “one of the most tenacious members in the Senate, “a man for his time…a kid from Paterson who wanted to give back to the people of New Jersey, to fight for the people… always on the side of those who needed a better life.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recalled that as new senators—he, on his second round in the Senate, she newly elected—they had often shared the newbie’s “back row.”  “Frank always had something to say; there was never any doubt of where he stood.”  Clinton spoke of his pursuit of the American dream: “He was the best of who we are as Americans…he dared greatly and lead boldly.” The former Secretary of State noted his great love for his own family, saying the Senator was “A man who fought for all children and was a steadfast champion of women’s rights.”

A clearly emotional Vice President Joseph Biden said of Lautenberg, “He was one of my closest friends in the Senate.”  Lautenberg believed, said the Vice President, that “if we find a problem, we should fix it….He never quit, never gave up, never complained. …There’s no way you can lose if you work like the devil,” mused the Vice President, saying about Lautenberg, “everything was done with passion.”  Addressing the Senator’s family he said “Everything Frank did was with sincerity.   No one ever doubted his word; he kept whatever commitment he made…he had courage, both physical and moral.”  Biden recalled the Senator’s “resounding commitment to the security of Israel. “

Concluding, Biden spoke words of farewell to a friend, descended from the synagogue podium and embraced the Senator’s widow.

Bonnie Lautenberg’s quietly delivered words echoed loudly through the massive sanctuary. “Today is a celebration of his life—and what a life he had… He was the love of my life… a man who treated everyone with the same respect.”  She expressed sincere gratitude to his staff,  and echoing the words of “The Impossible Dream” sung earlier by Brian Stokes Mitchell, said her late husband had “lived the impossible dream and did it his way… He was a blessing to all of us.”

Following the New York service, family and friends accompanied the casket by train to Washington, DC, where it laid in repose in the Senate rotunda.  Lautenberg, the last World War II veteran to serve in the Senate, was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery last Friday morning.

Senator Frank Lautenberg has been memorialized in many places.  Among the most poignant are words sent by Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York and the Consulate General of Israel in New York: “Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones.

Senator Lautenberg was a tremendous friend of Israel and the Jewish people….He demonstrated a true commitment to the Jewish people that reflected the shared values of freedom and democracy that eternally bond the United States and Israel.”

Lautenberg had a strong record supporting Israel. The Senator is the namesake of Hebrew University’s Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology, a major global center for cancer research. to fill the Senate seat left vacant by his death NJ Governor Chris Christie appointed Jeffrey S. Chiesa, the New Jersey state attorney general.  A special election will be held in October to fill the seat.

By Maxine Dovere

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