Former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman said being an observant Jew was a positive during his career in public service, though at times he faced challenges. When he was elected to the U.S. Senate, he recalled asking his rabbis for advice about what to do if a session was scheduled on Shabbat.
“I felt a real obligation never to miss a vote because of my religious observance, because I couldn’t delegate my vote, there are no proxies in the Senate, and I never wanted anybody to say, ‘Lieberman missed a vote, didn’t vote for us in Connecticut because of his religion, he put his religion above us.’ Bottom line I’d say over my senate years, sometimes it was difficult, but it was definitely doable,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman served as the guest speaker at Partners in Torah of Cleveland’s third annual fundraiser Feb. 12 at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights.
Lieberman, who was the Democratic Party’s nominee for vice president in the 2000 election, making him the first Jewish candidate on a major American political party presidential ticket, said his passion for history and the value of tikkun olam inspired him to pursue a career in politics. He also credited his parents for raising him to be an observant Jew and for instilling in him a faith in America.
“They told me that to be successful in America, I didn’t have to homogenize myself, I didn’t have to assimilate myself, I didn’t have to be like everybody else,” said Lieberman, who was born in Stamford, Conn., and graduated from Yale University and Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn.
“I should be what I believed in, what I wanted to be and I would gain more respect as a result of that. You know what? They happened to be right, and I will forever be grateful to them.”
In 1970, Lieberman was elected to the Connecticut Senate, where he served three terms as majority leader. He served as state attorney general from 1983 to 1989. He won election to the
U.S. Senate in 1988 and was re-elected in 1994 and 2000.
After his run for vice president in the 2000 presidential election, he ran as a third-party candidate during his Senate re-election bid in 2006. Lieberman retired from the senate in January 2013.
Lieberman praised Partners in Torah for the work it’s doing in the community as well as for its open and inclusive environment.
“In what you have made real in a very few years through Partners in Torah, there’s a very powerful lesson, I think, which is that over the years and centuries, we have developed different Jewish denominations and sometimes there’s real conflict between us,” Lieberman said.
“So in the most literal sense, we all don’t seem to be able to pray together, but what you are proving is that we all can learn together, we all can study together, we all can involve ourselves in the Torah together, and that’s a very powerful message.”
Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel introduced Lieberman at the Feb. 12 event. Mandel, a Republican from Beachwood, recalled a meeting he had with Lieberman years ago in Washington, D.C. The meeting was only supposed to last 10 minutes, but the two ended up speaking for two hours.
“That day – those two hours – that stuck with me ever since as two of the most powerful hours of my life,” Mandel said.
Mandel also referred to Lieberman as a “statesman” and “gentleman.”
“When I think about Senator Lieberman, I think about the kind of person we want in public service, someone who’s a fierce fighter and defender of the United States of America and the Jewish state of Israel,” Mandel said.
Proceeds from the event will benefit Partners in Torah of Cleveland, an organization that offers Jews of all backgrounds across the Cleveland Jewish community learning opportunities to discover Judaism and its culture, history and traditions at their own pace.
The Cleveland Jewish News was the media sponsor of the event.