No one can hide their true stripes traveling with a small group for six days in a foreign country. And so it was traveling with Governor Quinn and 12 others on a JUF trip to Israel last month. This is a man who acts out his passion for humanity - the people, the ideals, and love of the land - in everything he does.
I was curious to see how long the Governor would keep up his populist, man of the people, pose. On what day would he slip? Round one was his decision to fly coach. Even when the airline offered to upgrade him from coach to business, he declined. What about joining the group at the many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners? Would he slip away for private meals in his room? He never missed a group meal nor did he ever make the group wait for him in the van.
Would the Governor act the alpha male in the many meetings with political and business leaders such as President Peres and Shai Agassi, CEO of A Better Place? Never once did I see him make statements to score points. Political colleagues and other Springfield insiders as well as the media complain about the Governor's lack of finesse. Up close in the heat of July in Israel, his approach came across as unassuming and sincere.
This did not mean that all was sanguine. Quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Governor quietly challenged top staff from the Office of Strategic Affairs, about the controversial "boycott law," recently passed by the Israeli Knesset. And then he listened closely to their response.
Watching who - and what - made him glow with warmth and curiosity was revealing.
In full disclosure, I am someone fascinated by strategic messaging and intrigue, by the devious as well as the honest.
In contrast, our Governor gravitates towards those who express what is in their hearts by what they do. He had a wonderful exchange with the Mayor of Beer-Sheva, Ruvik Danilovich. It ended with the following (paraphrased) invitation: "I would like the Mayor of a town important in the life of one Abraham, the Patriarch, to visit another town important in the life of another Abraham, the Emancipator and to stay with me in the Governor's Mansion when he comes."
Likewise, the Governor formed a personal bond with the lead scientists from Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research institute at Lake Kinneret/the Sea of Galilee; two people who have devoted their lives to improving water management at Lake Kinneret. The Governor sees water, and the management of water resources, as critical to keeping Illinois healthy. He was clearly interested in what the scientists had discovered and what they needed to continue their work.
At lunch afterwards in an idyllic spot by the Sea, Quinn thought aloud about ways to bring resources to the work of the Institute. Perhaps money could be raised to send high school students for a summer of learning as research assistants? And perhaps there could be a website devoted to "keeping the Sea of Galilee blue?" He mentioned creating pilgrimages. Although Lake Kinneret is only mentioned once in the Torah, the Sea of Galilee is an important spiritual site for most Christians of deep faith like the Governor.
There were many other important and interesting conversations between the Governor and Israelis on this trip. He was fascinated by Israel as a "start-up nation." Why are Israelis so entrepreneurial? What makes the culture that so supportive of innovation? How did Israel so successfully implement policies and processes about the purification of sewage water, making it the most effective nation in that area in the world? Will they repeat this approach to change with electric cars? What about nano-technology, a topic which the President of the State of Israel spoke fluently about it in our meeting?
In the end, what I will remember is that our Governor interacted with all of us on the trip and with all who came to meet him in a mentschekh manner. This may not be the most powerful approach for getting your way in Springfield. But it explains why those who go "way back" in political time with Governor Quinn remain intensely loyal to him over the decades. His "true stripes" were those of a thoughtful and honorable man. It was a pleasure to see and hear about Israel in his company.