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November 28, 2003 - Image 17

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-28

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

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observant."
"There are certain things you miss on
Friday night or Saturday but you do it
for a reason," he says.
On the campaign trail, too,
Lieberman has missed some political
events because of his religious obser-
vance. And one Democratic presidential
debate in Arizona was rescheduled
because it conflicted with Sukkot and
Lieberman could not attend.
Through his career, Lieberman has
learned to walk the line between reli-
gious observance and public life. The
first two times he was nominated for the
Senate by the Democratic Party in
Connecticut, it was done on a Friday
night. Lieberman accepted the nomina-
tion by videotape.
Lieberman will vote in the Senate and
fulfill his job requirements on the
Sabbath, but he will not campaign or
raise funds. He welcomes the question
of what he would do as president on the
Sabbath, understanding it is important
that voters know he will take calls from
heads of state and military leader's as the
nation's chief executive.
Lieberman's high school yearbook
reads like an overachiever's dream. He
was class president, voted most popular,
and created a summer school after grad-
uation so classmates who had missed
credits could get a diploma. Lieberman
talked his friends into becoming tutors.
The same rabbi who said he wouldn't
amount to anything at the age of 10
tried, when Lieberman was 14, to con-
vince him to become a rabbi.
"He had all the elements that would
make him a good community leader,"
said Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, now
executive director at the Center for
Christian-Jewish Understanding at
Sacred Heart University in Fairfield,
Conn. "The fact that he took that hi
er, to the Senate, only concludes in my
mind that I was right."
Lieberman felt he could fulfill his reli-
gious mission better on a soapbox than
a synagogue bimah. "There's no ques-
tion that one of the motivating factors
was my religious upbringing and the
basic understanding that my life was a
gift from God and I had a responsibility
to give back by — stated in its simplest
form — doing tikkun olam, by working
to improve the world," he says.

Ribicoff Influence

The Washington bug first bit him in
1963, when he interned for Abraham
Ribicoff, a Jew from Connecticut .who
became governor in 1955 and won a
Senate seat in 1962.
"There's no question that that experi-
ence had a real effect on me," Lieber-

man says of his summer in
Washington, in which he heard Martin
Luther King Jr. give his "I Have a
Dream" speech. He later brought stu-
dents from his Yale University class to
Mississippi to help register blacks to
vote.
Lieberman says of Ribicoff, "He
stood for independence, integrity. He
got things done within Washington."
He adds, "It's funny as I say these
words how much I hope they're words
that people identify with me today."
Ribicoff was a guide for Lieberman
not just on how to be a Jew in the
Senate, but that one could get to the
Senate as a Jew. "He learned you could
be a Jew and you could serve," Rabbi
Ehrenkranz says.
Lieberman ran for and was elected to
the Connecticut Senate, where he rose
to 'majority leader. After a failed run for
Congress and a divorce from his first
wife, Betty Haas, Lieberman became
the state's attorney general. He now
says that in this age of terrorism,
"America needs a president that has a
bit of attorney general in him."
In 1988, Lieberman defeated incum-
bent Lowell Weicker and won a seat in
the Senate. He quickly developed a rep-
utation as a freethinker, one who could
easily cross party lines. He also quickly
became known as the observant Jew in
the chamber.
Lieberman quietly ate salad or fish in
the Senate dining room and at hun-
dreds of dinners and receptions as other
lawmakers dined on chicken or steak.
Gore would refer to himself as
Lieberman's "Shabbos goy," and when
it came to policy positions, Lieberman
consulted Connecticut voters, not rab-
bis or Jewish law.
"I don't go to the rabbi for guidance
as to how to vote," he says. "But it's the
sense of justice and responsibility, that
we're taught we have to pursue justice,
to pursue mercy and righteousness. It's
all part of me and I'm sure part of the
decisions I make."
The decisions he has made through-
out his public life place him on the
conservative side of the 2004
Democratic primary field. At a recent
AARP forum in New Hampshire, five
of the six candidates present bashed the
new Republican prescription drug plan
and the forum's host for supporting it.
Only Lieberman took a more
nuanced approach, saying he needed
to see whether the bill was more of a
positive or negative before making a
decision on it. A week later, he
chose to join the other candidates iri
opposing it. ❑

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11/28

2003

17

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