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Jewish senator leads session aimed at healing bipartisan rift

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (JTA) — A handful of senators gathered in the spirit of post-impeachment reconciliation last week at an interfaith ceremony on Capitol Hill. Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), the Senate’s only Orthodox Jew, and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a Methodist, organized the event in hopes of starting a bipartisan healing process to move lawmakers beyond the polarizing divisions of recent months. Although the low turnout — only seven senators showed up — did not appear to bode well for a new spirit of comity, many of those at the gathering said it may be a sign of the progress that has already been made toward reconciliation following the impeachment trial. “This very divisive, troubling episode actually, I think, united us, as men and women, as individuals who happened to be senators,” said Lieberman, who, along with Brownback, co-chairs the Center for Jewish and Christian Values, which coordinated the gathering. Putting a positive face on the low turnout, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein said the fact that more senators were not there may actually be a “good sign” that they have already heeded the public’s call to move on. “Having a closure service a week and a half after” the end of the impeachment trial “may have even been too late,” said Eckstein, the center’s president. Still, he said, the event “was as much a closure of one door as it was our attempt to open up the new door of cooperation and renewal.” Joining Lieberman and Brownback were three Democrats and four Republicans: Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Charles Robb (D-Va.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Also participating in the ceremony were Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell of the National Council of Churches, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis. Lieberman, for his part, said that while the Senate may have already made strides toward reconciliation, in light of the disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country, lawmakers must “find ways to reach out to the public, to reconnect, to reassure them of the worthiness of our intentions.” An observant Jew who last month found himself sitting in trial of President Clinton on Shabbat, Lieberman pointed to examples of reconciliation in the Bible. There is inspiration to be found, he said, in the story of Isaac and Ishmael, who came together to bury their father, Abraham; in Joseph forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery; and in what he called “the reconciliation of God with all of us, His highly imperfect creations.”