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October 12, 1990 - Image 100

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-10-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

PROFILE

Writing New Laws And
Observing Old Ones

Joseph I. Lieberman, the Senate's first Orthodox Jew,
is getting good reviews, but his biggest problem so far has
been Saturday roll calls.

JAMES D. BESSER

Washington Correspondent

T

he hours are grueling
and the people who
hired him can be fick-
le, not to mention the con-
flicts between his obligations
as an observant Jew and the
requirements of the job.
But after nearly two years
in Washington as a United
States Senator, Connecti-
cut's Joseph I. Lieberman is
a man who still finds little
about the job to complain
about. Likewise, few com-
plaints are heard about him.
Sen. Lieberman came to
the Senate in January 1989,
as the first Orthodox Jewish
member of that elite body.
As the only Sabbath-
observant member of the
Senate's eight-man Jewish

Baltimore's Ira Rifkin
contributed to this article

92

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 1990

contingent, he is often pi-
geon-holed as "the Senate's
Jew," a designation he
steadfastly resists.
At the same time, howev-
er, the 48-year-old Demo-
cratic senator is a unifying
symbol for thousands of Or-
thodox Jews who often dis-
agree politically, as well as
being an important asset as
the Orthodox community
begins to flex its political
muscles.
An incident that occurred
during his quest for the sen-
atorial nomination under-
scores the standing he en-
joys among politically active
Orthodox Jews.
"The state was holding its
Democratic convention for
nominating their candi-
dates," recalled William
Rapfogel, director of the
Union of Orthodox Jewish
Congregation's Institute for
Public Affairs. "It happened
to fall on a Jewish holiday.

Joe Lieberman couldn't at-
tend, and didn't.
"I remember my rabbi
making a speech about this
man who was risking his
nomination to high office
because of his beliefs. There
was a tremendous admira-
tion within the Orthodox
community and a pride in
his accomplishment," Mr.
Rapfogel said.
"More important than the
substance has been his
style," added David
Zwiebel, director of govern-
ment affairs and general
counsel for Agudath Israel
of America.
"There's no question that
in Senator Lieberman's case,
his demeanor and his per-
sonal code of ethics have
brought only pride to every
faction of the Orthodox
community."
That includes the Chasi-
dim. When Lubavitch offi-
cials in Los Angeles called
his office last spring asking
for a word of support to pub-
lish in their annual fund-
raising magazine. Sen. Lie-
berman quickly responded
with an appropriate letter.
"I've had a close relation-
ship with the Lubavitch
community in Connecticut,"
he said. "I feel they've
played a very positive role.
My relations with them have
been non-political. They
grow out of my respect for
what the Lubavitch com-
munity has done in Connect-
icut."
Equally enthusiastic
about his performance so far
are members of Washing-
ton's pro-Israel lobby. The
consensus is that he
manages to convey strong
support without seeming to
rubber-stamp Israeli gov-
ernment policies.
His unabashed Jew-
ishness combined with the

care with which he speaks
out about the Middle East
allows him to serve as an in-
dependent voice on this
highly charged issue.
It also makes him an ideal
person to communicate with
the Israeli government on
the critical issue of Jewish
support in this country.
During a trip to Israel just
before the Persian Gulf cri-
sis erupted, for example, Mr.
Lieberman provided some
sober warnings to Israeli
leaders about eroding sup-
port on Capitol Hill.
"When Joe Lieberman
speaks to the Israelis about
American support, they
listen," said a leading pro-
Israel lobbyist in Washing-
ton who, like several others
interviewed for this story,
did not want to be named for
fear of stepping on the
wrong toes.
"They're much more likely
to take this guy seriously,
because they know his sup-
port for Israel is on a gut
level, and they know his
purpose isn't just to curry
favor with the pro-Israel
types. It's not politics with
him. "
The acclaim for Sen.
Lieberman has not been
universal, however. Jewish
"multi-issue" groups, such
as the American Jewish
Congress and the American
Jewish Committee, both of
which have liberal domestic
agendas, have occasionally
butted up against his con-
servatism
For example, a number of
Jewish groups campaigned
vigorously against the capi-
tal gains tax cut earlier this
year; Mr. Lieberman was
one of only six Democrats to
side with the president in the.
bitter partisan battle.
And although Sen.
Lieberman describes himself

as pro-choice on abortion, he
has "not come through for
us as much as we hoped,"
said one Washington repre-
sentative of a national Jew-
ish group that takes a
strong pro-choice position.
But even critics of his po-
sitions tend to like the man.
"He's a mensch," said an-
other Washington represen-
tative for a major Jewish
organization, who also de-
clined to be identified. "We
disagree on some positions,
agree on others, but Senator
Lieberman has never been
disagreeable. He's not an
easy person to dislike."
Capitol Hill observers say
Mr. Lieberman brings a zest
to the job that is uncommon
in cynical Washington.
"He works extremely
hard," said Mark Talisman,
Washington director for the
Council of Jewish Federa-
tions. "I'm in awe of his
energy, and I'm admiring of
an observant Jew being able

Pro-Israel lobbyists
say Sen. Lieberman is
well-received by
Israeli leaders.

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