In Manhattan's cavernous Central Synagogue, the body of Jacob K. Javits today lay in a flag-draped casket while all around him, under gilded arches and stained-glass windows, echoed eulogies to the immigrant janitor's son who rose from the Lower East Side slums to represent New York in the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) spoke of his "triumphant and, in the end, transcendent life." Former senator Howard Baker called him "my teacher." Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) remembered him as "one of the giants of Senate history -- one of the last great progressive Republicans."
But it was in the small, personal memories, that Jack Javits' spirit shone most brightly. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) recalled a terrifying late-night plane ride after a dinner in New York. The group of Republican senators clung to their seats in the storm, white-knuckled and tense. "But Jack sat there calmly, reading his correspondence and signing his mail, just as if he were at the office. We were amazed at his lack of fear," Mathias marveled.
Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) said Javits was "my conscience in the Senate." If she voted differently from him, she said, she felt she had to "stop by his desk and explain to him why I voted that way. What he cared about was the integrity of one's vote."
Attorney General Edwin Meese, whose career in Washington began after Javits' defeat in 1980, said he had become close to the former senator only in the last two years. "At a critical point in my life," Meese said, "he reached out and helped." A spokesman for Meese said Javits had "given him some counsel and advice" during his confirmation hearings.
More than 1,000 people attended the memorial service, while hundreds more stood behind police lines along Lexington Avenue and 55th Street. Inside, where the first rows of burnished pews held more than a score of prominent politicians, party labels meant nothing: Former president Richard Nixon sat next to Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.). Meese sat next to New York's Democratic Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.
Writers Kurt Vonnegut and Jerzy Kosinski attended, as did conductor Zubin Mehta, actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, banker David Rockefeller, Mayor Edward Koch, Cardinal John J. O'Connor and Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), who, as a town supervisor in 1980, defeated Javits by focusing attention on his age and failing health.
But celebrities were outnumbered by ordinary New Yorkers. The balconies were filled with elderly gentlemen reminiscing about how they had once met the man, or at least seen him and admired him. An elderly woman with four layers of sweaters, an eye patch and a ragged raincoat sat in the midst of a group of reporters, her attention fixed on the proceedings.
Kennedy remembered Javits for his "useful impatience . . . never willing to settle for less than full justice. He cared passionately about the problem of poverty -- long before it was fashionable -- and long afterwards."
Many of those who spoke of Javits' 24-year senatorial career praised him as much for his courage since his 1980 defeat as for what he accomplished in public life. Before his death Friday at age 81, Javits had suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative nerve disease known as Lou Gehrig's disease for the New York Yankees player who was also afflicted by it. Although the illness slurred his speech, forced him to use a respirator and confined him to a wheelchair, Javits continued to lead an active life, teaching, lobbying in Washington, practicing law and doing business.
"He did not go gentle into that good night," said Moynihan, paraphrasing poet Dylan Thomas. "He raged against the dying of the light. He went luminously, and served as an example to us all to the end."
Mathias recalled Javits speaking at Ellis Island about how his father, an Austrian Jew, had come to America "in search of justice and dignity. Jack Javits was passionate about justice and dignity . . . He was a rare man whose actions were guided by principle." Often, when politicians were arguing, Mathias said, "I heard him end it by saying, 'It's wrong!' and with such conviction that it carried all of us with him."
Mathias added: "In many ways, his last years were the most challenging. He knew that his future was measured in days. He used his mind, his spirit and his courage when nothing else was left."
Javits' former colleagues recalled his early advocacy of civil rights, his opposition to the Vietnam war and his support for human rights abroad. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) recalled that when he was elected to the Senate, his father, Milward Simpson, a former U.S. senator, told him to seek Javits' advice. "Know what you're talking about," Javits told him.
In the years of his illness, Simpson said, "the spirit soared while the body diminished."
Simpson also paid tribute to Javits' wife Marion, who sat in the front row with their children, Joy, Joshua and Carla. Javits' family, Simpson said, "made sure his life remained vital."
In a eulogy to his father, Joshua recalled the bedtime stories Javits would tell his children, stories about a good spirit who, when children were in danger, would whisper counsel in their ear. Often the advice would be to take heroic action.
Meese recalled that Plato's "Republic" advocated a ruling council of wise men. "I would suggest that Jack Javits ably filled that role in our republic.