I highly doubt that I was the first Jew or even the first rabbi to go to the computer to see what information I could get on former astronaut and Senator John Glenn and the Jews. No, I did not learn that John Glenn was a staunch supporter of Israel. And no, I did not learn that John Glenn peppered his conversations with Yiddish words. I was however vindicated, in that while researching Senator Glenn’s life, I was reminded yet again that Jewish eyes differ from American eyes. Furthermore, we Jews have no right whatsoever to expect non-Jews to see things our way.
Senator John Glenn had American eyes. As one who supported negotiations between Israel and the P.L.O., Senator Glenn was drawn into a heated political discussion on the topic. In the midst of that discussion, Senator Glenn compared Menachem Begin and the Irgun with the P.L.O. In his eyes, the Senator was unable to see that he was making an odious comparison; in his eyes, the Senator was unable to see that he was committing “political suicide”. A good many American Jews (including Rabbi Zell) find it difficult, if not impossible to be dispassionate about Israel. I would suspect that Senator Glenn was either unaware of this or couldn’t for the life of him understand why we Jews get so worked up over the Jewish State.
Senator John Glenn had American eyes. When Senator Glenn voted in favor of selling F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, American Jews saw red. Senator Glenn on the other hand saw red, white and blue. He reasoned that if The United States did not sell warplanes to Saudi Arabia, the Saudis would turn to France for similar French made fighter jets. Unlike the United States, France would sell its warplane to Saudi Arabia without any restrictions attached. Such reasoning did not sit well with American Jews. Whether American Jews are willing to admit it or not, love is blind and American Jews have a deep love for Israel. It would be totally unrealistic as well as grossly unfair for American Jews to expect a non-Jewish (Presbyterian) Senator from the Buckeye State to harbor the same degree of love towards Israel.
Senator John Glenn had American eyes. He had a best friend Henri Landwirth who was also his business partner. Henri Landwirth was a Holocaust survivor. Henri Landwirth had numbers tattooed on his arm to prove it. Some Holocaust survivors find it hard to go through life with such numbers tattooed on their arms. Henri Landwirth was one of them. He tried to hide his tattooed arm whenever possible. Senator John Glenn was unable to understand the nightmare that was Henri Landwirth’s. He saw Henri’s discomfort and maybe even the shame that he bore, but he was unable to understand it. Senator John Glenn once told Henri Landwirth, “If it were me, I’d wear that number like a medal with a spotlight in it.”
Senator John Glenn had American eyes. It was those American eyes that piloted his plane both in World War II where he flew fifty-nine combat missions and then again in Korea where he flew ninety combat missions. Those same eyes viewed the earth from space aboard the spaceship Friendship Seven close to five and a half decades ago, when he was the first American to orbit the earth. Years later, Senator Glenn set his sights on serving the State of Ohio, serving as a four term Senator. From my point of view, that makes him a true American hero…even if from a Jewish viewpoint we Jews and Senator John Glenn may not have always seen things eye to eye.