Lieberman’s Judaism the news flavor of the day


NEW YORK, Aug. 8 (JTA) — Jews aren’t always comfortable with their faith being splashed across the nation’s headlines.

But with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, running for vice president, U.S. Jews better get used to it.

Discussions of Lieberman’s Judaism formed much of the coverage of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore’s choice of the Connecticut senator.

Most Jews expressed pride and joy that a Jew could be just a heartbeat away from the White House.

“Is he Democrat or Republican?” asked Moshe Koot of Miami Beach, who was quoted in the Miami Herald. “A Democrat? Then I’m a Democrat.”

Koot’s comments came in an article that emphasized the pride of South Florida’s Jews in the selection.

But a different reaction came from Beth Farber in a Chicago Tribune article that also tracked the Jewish response.

“People don’t want to say they are anti-Semitic, but we don’t know what goes through people’s heads when they vote,” Farber was quoted as saying during a break from a Chicago Torah session.

Many of the Jews quoted in the Chicago Tribune article said they were stunned and surprised to hear about Lieberman’s selection.

The Miami Herald article also mentioned the unease reported by the president of the Arab American Institute, who said he had received anxious phone calls.

“People are very sensitive. People are nervous. People want to know that we are not going to be locked out,” said James Zogby.

Zogby said Lieberman has worked to increase the participation of Arab Americans in the Democratic Party.

In one of its articles, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution took a different tack — one that also appeared in several U.S. newspapers — of addressing any potential conflicts between Lieberman’s job tasks and his religious observance.

“In the Senate, he has cast votes on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, although he has worked to work to adhere to restrictions on using cars on the Sabbath,” wrote Mark Sherman in an article headlined, “Religion no conflict with job, senator says.”

The Associated Press began one of its articles by mentioning that Lieberman says he is motivated by tikkun olam, the Jewish notion of repairing the world.

Many of the congratulatory editorials in U.S. newspapers on Lieberman’s selection mentioned the centrist vision and strong moral voice that he has made his hallmark.

Many also called his announcement a breakthrough for the United States — and for Jews.

“Yes, Mr. Lieberman’s Judaism will bother some less enlightened voters. But the country has changed since 1960, when John Kennedy had to overcome the notion that a Catholic could not run the country,” said the Dallas Morning News.

“Today politics is dominated by baby boomers who were shaped by the civil rights revolution, which should make Sen. Lieberman’s faith less of a make-or-break issue.”

In an editorial titled “Lieberman inspires in role as chosen,” the Chicago Sun-Times hoped that the selection would encourage Jews to consider public service.

“Just as President John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960 broadened the horizon for Catholics, may Lieberman’s candidacy inspire young Jews to dream of obtaining this nation’s highest offices,” The Sun-Times said.

On the other hand, The Boston Globe dismissed the religious issue, saying, “We hope and expect voters have grown beyond prejudging candidate based on religion.”

On the Internet, the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic messages are sprouting on the Internet following Gore’s selection of Lieberman. The ADL, which monitors hate speech on the Internet, said such messages are appearing on message boards, discussion groups and e-mail lists.

“Why didn’t Gore pick a religious black man or a devout Hispanic or white ethnic Catholic to be his running mate?’ asked one person on the Jewish community message board on America Online. “You know why, Jewish money supports, and Jews run, the Democratic Party!”

But most messages on this board were much less incendiary.

“This man must be on call 24/7. Sorry I can’t see that he can do that,” read one posting.

“Well, he and his rabbi can. Orthodox Jewish doctors are on call 24/7,” read a response.

(JTA intern Brian Seidman in New York contributed to this report.)

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