Senator Joseph Lieberman with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the 2007 Munich Security Conference./WIKIPEDIA

In Massachusetts, Lieberman remembered for his Jewish values

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In Massachusetts, Lieberman remembered for his Jewish values

Senator Joseph Lieberman with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the 2007 Munich Security Conference./WIKIPEDIA

In 1988, longtime Massachusetts Democrat Steve Grossman got a request to help out the Senate campaign of a fellow Jewish-American in Connecticut. The candidate’s name was Joe Lieberman, and he was running against Republican Lowell Weicker.

“It was by no means a guaranteed thing, as you know, in that time,” said Grossman, who went on to head the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee. “I was delighted to help.”

Lieberman went on to win, and was reelected three times until his retirement in 2013. During that span, he made history: In 2000, as Al Gore’s running mate, Lieberman became the first Jew on a major-party ticket in a U.S. presidential election. Gore and Lieberman lost by a razor-thin margin that prevented Lieberman from becoming the country’s first Jewish vice president.

Since Lieberman’s passing on March 27 at age 82, Jewish political, community and academic leaders in Massachusetts have been reflecting on his life and career.

“Joe was a friend, colleague, advisor, somebody I turned to from time to time for guidance and advice,” said Grossman, a former Massachusetts state treasurer who also served as president of AIPAC. “I got to know Hadassah, his wife. The relationship just grew. He and I had some similar views about the Democratic Party and very similar views on the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

“What I remember most about Joe Lieberman is his humility, anchored in the deepest Jewish values,” Grossman said. “He wore his Jewish values on his sleeve. That was obvious to everybody.”

Current Massachusetts state treasurer Deborah Goldberg noted that Lieberman was an observant Jew who did not work on Shabbat or holidays, and that this extended to the 2000 campaign. If his presence was required at the Senate on one of those occasions, he walked to Capitol Hill and back.

“He also strongly believed in our Jewish values of tikkun olam, and what better way for him to repair the world than through public service,” Goldberg said.

Lieberman, with his wife Hadassah./WIKIPEDIA

Howard Rich of Marblehead, who serves on the board of the Jewish Journal of Greater Boston, remembers Lieberman as a “remarkable person.

“He observed all the rules of Orthodox Jews and really still was able to thrive in American politics. People accepted him for who he was. He never backed down on who he was. He was very open about it. He was just a very honest kind of person. I think people appreciated it,” Rich said.

“I felt Joe Lieberman was a man of high integrity and decency, and that is sadly missed in today’s politics,” said State Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Second Essex and Middlesex), adding that with the 2000 vice presidential nomination, Lieberman “really was on the forefront for Jewish leaders to get as high as he did.”

Despite the election loss, the nomination had lasting significance, according to Jonathan Sarna, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, where he is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History.

“[This] was a turning point in American Jewish history,” Sarna said. “Never before had a Jew been nominated for the vice presidency.”

Robert Leikind, director of the American Jewish Committee New England, along with Anti-Defamation League New England, and interim Regional Director Rabbi Ron Fish, remembered Lieberman from their days in Connecticut. “He went on to become something of … an elder statesman,” Leikind reflected. “He emerged as an influential force in the Senate,” in part through “his ability to engage with people who saw the world differently than him.”

“Senator Lieberman’s continuing courage throughout that campaign and his career as a public servant was and remains inspiring to the Jewish community,” Fish said in an email.

Lieberman’s later political career was eventful. He ran for president in 2004, losing in the Democratic primaries. In Lieberman’s 2006 Senate reelection bid, he lost the Democratic primary but won the general election as an independent. In 2008, he surprised many by endorsing Republican Sen. John McCain’s unsuccessful bid for president.

Like many, Leikind is still thinking about that close 2000 election.

“He had an extraordinary opportunity to become vice president of the U.S.,” he said. “What would have happened but for a hanging chad?” Θ

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