From Our CEO
Remembering Senator Joe Lieberman
March 29th, 2024

What happens if there’s a national crisis on a Saturday?

That was the kind of question people asked when Senator Joseph Lieberman, z”l, was announced as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000. Not only was Joe the first Jew on a major political party’s national ticket, but the first Orthodox Jew at that. How exactly would this Saturday work prohibition work? Joe explained that while he wouldn’t campaign on Shabbat, Jewish law makes clear that he would be able to fulfill his governmental duties, much like a doctor who treats the sick.

For Jews at the time — myself very much included — it was a source of immense pride and some amazement to have a Shabbat-observing Jew who might be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Twenty-four years later, it feels even more groundbreaking that an observant Jew — somebody who didn’t shy away from discussing how religion shaped his worldview — was the Democratic nominee for vice president. Hadassah, his wife, we learned in the early days of the campaign, was the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Jewishness was not incidental to Joe; this is what made him who he was.

I had the honor of knowing Joe and Hadassah, who serves on UJA’s board. This morning, I attended his funeral. Numerous political colleagues and family members painted a remarkably consistent picture of a man who was the ultimate public servant, the quintessential mensch. A politician with friends on the “other side,” a bridge builder, who earned widespread respect even from those who opposed his views. A man who was the same person — be it in synagogue or on the Senate floor.

Joe personified the concept of “kiddush Hashem” (sanctifying God’s name). He identified as a Jew unapologetically and upheld the most important Jewish values in full public view. Whether walking miles on Shabbat to vote at the Capitol or courageously crossing party lines, he modeled what it means to be a proud Jewish American, serving country without compromising self.

We all owe Joe Lieberman an enormous debt of gratitude for the extraordinary example he set. May his memory be a blessing and an inspiration.    

Shabbat shalom