Tim Kaine is one of the best people I know.
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I am already on record with a somewhat lighthearted appreciation of how he brought hummus to Virginia and ran for governor just so my daughter could meet her husband on the campaign. But the man I have come to know and admire is not just a nice guy. He lives out commitments with a sense of personal responsibility that has made him a role model for me as a rabbi.
My wife and I were invited to dinner at the Virginia Governor’s Mansion in Richmond for a farewell dinner that Gov. Kaine hosted for retiring Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor. The two men had worked very closely with each other (yes, hummus was a part of it) as the governor sought to deepen his understanding of the strategic partnership between Israel and the United States. The evening began with all of the guests standing in a circle outside of the dining room. The governor, without notes, introduced every person in the room with a personal anecdote and why it was important that they were there to pay tribute to the deepening relationship between Israel and the Commonwealth of Virginia. That close relationship with Israel continued during his tenure as chair of the Democratic National Committee – this time Ambassador Michael Oren hosted the private dinner of appreciation as he finished his term.
As Governor and Senator Tim Kaine took the time to get to know Israel and has traveled there many times to get to know its leaders and its security needs and to understand the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. Just after a trade mission to the Middle East, he sought out a chance to speak with the Jewish community to share what he learned: that there was near unanimity about the threat that a nuclear Iran represented to the region and the world. He described an opportunity to seize the moment and build a coalition that had positive security ramifications not just for Israel, but for the entire region.
His commitment to containing Iran flowed equally from the respect and admiration he held for Israel and the deep commitment to his Roman Catholic faith and its respect for life. I was familiar with that respect – he and I had discussed it many times over the years.
I saw it on display in his commitment to a safe and secure Israel; he upheld the bipartisan support Virginia governors have had for strong economic ties that reject the goals of the BDS movement. I saw it on display as he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee supporting a two-state solution as being the best chance for life and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike. I saw it on display as he took the lead in compassionate efforts toward refugees fleeing the murderous violence of ISIS.
But the quality of Tim Kaine’s leadership is as much about his character as his accomplishments. My daughter was part of his policy team working on the universal pre-K initiative that became a signature accomplishment. Her time on his staff coincided with the tragic Virginia Tech massacre. The governor was on a trade mission to Japan when the shooting happened. Having just arrived in Japan, on just a few hours’ rest, he flew back another 14 hours to comfort the victims’ families and the survivors. His entire staff – my daughter included – many of them recent college graduates inspired by his vision, turned out to meet his arriving plane. He stepped off his jet and realized that his first responsibility was to them. They had come to offer their love and support and found themselves without words. Somehow, he found the words for them.
He knows the importance of tending to the broken-hearted as well as working to prevent more broken hearts.
I have the privilege of participating in a regularly scheduled hour of reflection with members of the U.S. Senate, including now-Senator Tim Kaine. I remember – and wrote down – a comment Tim made as we discussed his motivation for public service. He said Jefferson, that Virginia icon, had articulated the notion that “all men were created equal,” but in neither his life nor his legislation could he make good on that promise. It was Lincoln, almost 100 years later, who recognized that a nation so conceived and so dedicated could not long endure if it continued to betray that promise. So he acted. And that’s why Tim supported the effort to place a statue of Abraham Lincoln, who visited a ravaged Richmond after the Civil War, with his son Tad on the city’s riverfront. Lincoln is seated – a gesture of reconciliation, not conquest.
That’s where Tim Kaine took his inspiration – from the first Republican president, because Lincoln had it right. He knew that words were not enough, and that the right thing to do is often independent of public opinion.
I have joked that when I grow up, I want to be Tim Kaine. He is, after all, one of the best people I know.
Rabbi Jack Moline has been a Jewish community leader in northern Virginia for more than 30 years.