Admittedly I have a soft spot for Senator Joe Lieberman, stemming from this photo-op that he shared with officer Elliot Press in Iraq in 2007. Lieberman made history by becoming the first Jew in America to run for national office on a major-party ticket, as Al Gore’s VP candidate for the Democrats in a hotly contested election of 2000 which he lost. He maintains a strong presence in government as Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and has announced that he will retire at the end of this, his fourth term, as the senator from Connecticut.
Senator Joe has just come out with a book, in time for the Jewish Holidays, on rediscovering the beauty of the Sabbath. It is essentially autobiographic, though he has crafted an ecumenical message on the value of a day of rest as a 24 hour respite from the overload we all encounter during the other six days of the week. The book details Lieberman’s challenges in maintaining his Jewish observance of the Sabbath while serving as an elected official. I was a bit disappointed that he made no mention of his first marriage and subsequent divorce, strained by his wife’s unwillingness to observe the Sabbath as reported in an interview in New York Magazine. Not from a gossipy standpoint, but to complete the picture of how his observance evolved. He shares personal failings and character flaws that seem a lot less pertinent. The lens through which Lieberman views Shabbat is his role in shopping for flowers or food to welcome it, and through the prayer services in celebrating it and bidding it adieu. Those elements are traditional and charming.
There are a few anecdotes that Senator Lieberman shares that will open a few eyes. The most revealing was a conversation that he had with Sarah Palin on a September afternoon in 2008 in Philadelphia, as she was preparing for her debate with Senator Joe Biden that would take place in early October.
Lieberman had endorsed his friend, John McCain for President. At that point in September, Palin was encountering a crisis of confidence and the McCain campaign was growing nervous. Steve Schmidt, the campaign co-manager, asked Lieberman if he would intervene since he had something in common with Palin that none of the other campaign staff had: Religion. Sure enough Joe gave Sarah a private pep talk comparing her destiny to that of Queen Esther, which helped restore her confidence. He also pumped her up with an essay he had just read by Rabbi Soloveitchik regarding fate and destiny. Politics makes strange bedfellows, but not in this instance.