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Serving G-d and Country: Senator Joe Lieberman

Senator Joe Lieberman, who died March 27, 2024 at the age of 82, was the most prominent Torah-observant politician. He kept Shabbat throughout his storied career, which included four terms as a United States Senator and nomination as the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2002. 

In his book The Gift of Rest, published in 2012 (one of many he authored), Lieberman recounted Shabbat experiences with political colleagues such as Bill Clinton, Al and Tipper Gore, John McCain, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and others, and showed how observance of Shabbat enriched his personal life and enhanced his career.

Mourned by Chabad community leaders around the country, Joseph Lieberman first met the Rebbe in the 1960s as a student at Yale. “The senator was a close friend and had a long, warm relationship with Chabad over many years,” said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel. 

L-R: Rabbi Yisroel Deren, Regional Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Western and Southern New England; Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia and Regional Director of Chabad in Russia; Senator Joe Lieberman; and philanthropist Mr. George Rohr

The senator was eulogized by colleagues who filled the Congregation Agudath Sholom Synagogue in Stamford, Connecticut. Many compared him to the biblical Joseph who sought to elevate the world. At his funeral this past Friday, his daughter said “You followed in the way of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, constantly on a mission in this world ‘to repair the world through the Almighty’s sovereignty.’” 

In 1988, Lieberman ran for the United States Senate against three-term incumbent Lowell Weicker. “It was doubtful, at the time, that he would win—he was up against an incumbent senator,” recalled Rabbi Krinsky. The first International Kinus Hashluchim took place several days before the November 8, 1988 election. “Lieberman came to the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries, the shluchim gave him a blessing—and he won.” 

Senators Rudy Boschwitz and Joe Lieberman converse at Chabad Lubavitch of Minnesota’s 40th anniversary dinner

As he rose through the ranks in his political career, Lieberman stayed in close contact with the Derens and was delighted to find them waiting to greet him when he got to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. “But they went one better,” he told Lubavitch.com. “They printed a sefer [book] that had Mincha and Maariv and Bentching [Grace After Meals] in it, and on the front it had, ‘Democratic National Convention, 2000, nominating our own Senator Joe Lieberman.’”

Two years after that 2000 presidential bid, Lieberman again demonstrated the value he placed on his Judaism and his friendship with the Chabad-Lubavitch community. The occasion was the 40th anniversary celebration of Chabad-Lubavitch of Minnesota. At the celebratory gala dinner, Republican Senator Rudy Boschwitz was honored for his decades of friendship and support for Chabad. Keynoting the event was one of the country’s most prominent Democrats: Joe Lieberman. 

At opposite ends of the political spectrum, the two senators shared a love and reverence for Rebbe—whose hundredth year was also celebrated at the dinner, named “Celebration 100/40.” “The Lubavitcher Rebbe was the most eminent Jewish leader of our time,” Lieberman said, as he shared personal anecdotes of his experiences with the Rebbe.

Sen. Joe Lieberman at Chabad of Greater Boynton Beach in 2006 as Beit Blumi student presents Tzedakah Pushka

Rabbi Moshe Feller, Director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Minnesota described the unusual event. “A world-famous Democrat presenting a prominent Republican with an award for his support of Lubavitch is a sight you don’t see everyday. It tells the world a great deal about their extraordinary love and dedication to Yiddishkeit.”

Visiting Chabad of Greater Boynton Beach in 2006, Lieberman spoke to the community, and then visited the center’s preschool, Beit Blumi. “As if he had not another worry in the world, after addressing the community and taking many questions, he proceeded to the preschool where he sat in ‘circle time’ with the students and staff,” recalled Rabbi Sholom Ciment of Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Boynton Beach. 

Joseph Lieberman is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren. He will be remembered for the stellar example he set serving G-d and country. 

“He was a mensch,” said Rabbi Krinsky.

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