Jewish leaders in Alaska and across the United States remembered the late Sen. Ted Stevens, a legislative icon who perished along with four others in a backwoods plane crash earlier this month, as a friend of the Jewish community and a stalwart supporter of the state of Israel.

Speaking in Anchorage, Rabbi Yossi Greenberg, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska, called Stevens, whose record of accomplishments includes the successful fight for Alaska’s statehood and a string of federally-funded projects in his home state, a “great supporter of the Alaska Jewish community, the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Center and the establishment of the Alaska Jewish Historical Museum.”

Just weeks after arriving in the state capital in 1992 to open the Jewish center, Yossi and Esty Greenberg invited Stevens, who wasn’t Jewish, to their first Chanukah party. The senator attended, thus beginning an annual tradition of participating in each party’s Chanukah menorah lighting. In June 2008, six months before his retirement from Congress, Stevens spoke at the bar mitzvah of Greenberg’s son, Levi.

“He understood the importance of Jewish history and the Jewish people in the history of America,” said Greenberg.

Stevens, who as the longest-serving Republican senator in history spent six decades on Capitol Hill, was a regular guest of annual birthday celebrations in honor of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, including the 1992 celebration of the Rebbe’s 90th birthday. He also backed bills and motions supportive of Israel and visited Israel several times during his legislative career.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle expressed sadness over their former colleague’s demise.

Sen. Ted Stevens attends a Capitol Hill event honoring the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in the 1980s. “We take pride in the fact that the Lubavitcher Rebbe counts himself as a citizen of the United States of America,” the senator said at the gathering. (Photo: Lubavitch Archives)
Sen. Ted Stevens attends a Capitol Hill event honoring the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in the 1980s. “We take pride in the fact that the Lubavitcher Rebbe counts himself as a citizen of the United States of America,” the senator said at the gathering. (Photo: Lubavitch Archives)

“American has lost a great patriot,” said Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman in a statement posted on his website. “The state of Alaska has lost a founding father, and I have lost a dear friend.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee issued a statement honoring the senator’s legacy, citing his bipartisan work with Hawaiian Sen. Daniel Inouye in bolstering U.S.-Israel relations, and his support for the production of the Arrow anti-missile system.

“As a U.S. veteran of World War II, he understood the serious nature of the threat of the terrorists and the enemies of the Israel,” said Perry Green, an Alaskan Jewish philanthropist who knew Stevens for 40 years and often attended AIPAC conferences with him. “In his opinion, the enemies of Israel were the enemies of America.”

Green said that he, like many Americans, were shocked by the circumstances surrounding Stevens’ death, especially considering that the senator’s first wife perished in a plane crash in 1978. He noted that in addition to backing such projects as the construction of the Trans-Atlantic Pipeline and the conservation of Alaskan wilderness, he also supported a Jewish school in France during his tenure on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he chaired from 1997 to 2005.

“I was saddened,” Green said of the tragedy, “and even though he was 86, I felt that his life’s work was not over with.”