WASHINGTON (Oct. 15)
Vice President Al Gore stood in front of a Conservative congregation with a shot glass filled with vodka in his left hand, and a pickle and piece of pumpernickel bread in his right.
“Rabbi, teach me how to do this,” Rabbi Leonid Feldman said Gore asked him Tuesday morning.
Gore joined 150 congregants of Temple Emanuel in Palm Beach, Fla., in their Simchat Torah service before attending a Democratic Party fund-raising event that raised some $500,000. Congregant Daniel Abraham, the founder of Slim Fast diet aid and chairman of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, held the luncheon fund raiser, which President Clinton had originally planned to attend.
“What a way to start a day,” said Gore, according to witnesses. “A shot of vodka taken in a synagogue.”
The Soviet-born Feldman introduced the vodka tradition into the shul’s Simchat Torah and Purim celebrations 10 years ago.
“Mr. vice president, you have met many rabbis, but I am sure they didn’t feel the way I do today,” said Feldman, who was imprisoned in the former Soviet Union for his Jewish activities. “When I was a dissident and in hunger strikes I knew Americans cared about freedom and freedom of religion.”
In brief remarks to the congregation, Gore said America stands for freedom and mentioned a bill President Clinton will sign into law later this month — the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act — which seeks to punish foreign countries that persecute religious minorities through sanctions and other measures.
Gore and Abraham left after services and surprised congregants by walking the two blocks to Abraham’s home.
Gore, who also visited a Jewish nursing home on his trip to Florida, was heckled by an elderly resident who spoiled his often-told joke about the first Jewish president, according to witnesses.
As Gore approached the punch line of the joke — at the inauguration of the first Jewish president, his mother elbows the Cabinet member seated next to her — one resident beat the vice president, shouting repeatedly, “My other son’s a doctor.”