| Cut ‘n Paste |

Above All Else 

Lieberman proved then that while most politicians may talk the talk, they’re clueless as to the walk

The two most significant moments of Jewish pride for this out-of-town baby boomer were two “sit outs.”

Traditionally, the team’s best pitcher ascends the mound in Game One of the World Series, which in 1965 fell out on Yom Kippur. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax sat out the game. “When Koufax stated that he would not pitch on Yom Kippur,” Rabbi Berel Wein commented, “many Jews in America stood a little taller and had a better sense of self-worth and Jewish pride.”

When Joe Lieberman became Connecticut’s Democratic nominee for the Senate in 1988, he also sat out, as the party convention took place on Saturday. He sent a pre-recorded video message to the Hartford Coliseum saying his commitment to G-d took precedence over everything — even the most important day of his life.

I realized then (thank you, Reb Dovid Hersch Mayer ztz”l, for pointing this out) that it’s rare today to find someone who sacrifices for shemiras Shabbos, as most jobs do not require Saturday employment. I acknowledged this commitment by interrupting a speaking tour in Toronto to vote (I am registered in Connecticut), and Senator Lieberman acknowledged this commitment in his magisterial The Gift of Rest.

When Joe (as he modestly insisted I refer to him) learned about my expensive ballot, he thanked me, but also claimed that he had it coming, as (us being landsleit) he was my babysitter.

Senator Lieberman is best remembered for being selected as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, an honor that he likely earned by his courageous excoriation of POTUS from the floor of the Senate two years earlier. Lieberman proved then that while most politicians may talk the talk, they’re clueless as to the walk.

Where did he get this from? Like a good soup, it all starts with stock. I remember his mother Marcia well (factually, she was unforgettable) and Joe’s eulogy for her was a classic, including this reference to her lavish sense of humor:

“When her pulse rocketed to 190, she asked the cardiologist what caused such palpitations. ‘Sometimes it’s love,’ he offered, and Marcia rejoindered, ‘But I just met you.’”

One second later, Joe had everyone crying and wishing that they could mimic her stalwart concern for others.

A few years ago, I visited Senator Lieberman in his Manhattan office. The law firm was located somewhere in the upper stratosphere, and his office, the size of an infield, had a sprawling view of New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Newfoundland (in but one direction).

He greeted me, “Hanoch, my babysitting protégé, what do you think is going on right now?” He allowed but a few moments for me to ponder. “Our mothers are embracing in Shamayim!”

You can’t get more personal than that, and it immediately eased my discomfort with arriving in a towering pinnacle of corporate America. (Regarding the celestial reference, I was halfway there, topographically.)

Personalizing was one of his trademarks. For our every simchah, we would receive a handwritten blessing. For every book of mine, he would gush, “Great Shabbos reading!” often waxing more profoundly.

As far as politicians acting in accord with moral sensitivity (a group that may soon seek endangered-species protection), Joe Lieberman set the bar. Ever-conscious that he was the most visible example of Jewish observance, he awarded special attention to Jewish organizations. Yet his schedule restricted him to two talks a month for Jewish causes: one in Connecticut, and one nationally.

I asked him why he violated his protocol for the Bais Binyomin Yeshiva dinner in Stamford (1992), which was his second appearance that month.

“I could not refuse, as the boys from the yeshivah performed shemirah for my father,” he said.

He had not one Stamford talmid as a constituent, but that made no difference to the man who placed the commitment to G-d and His values above all else. —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1007)

Oops! We could not locate your form.