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A Jewish President? Kosher Food, Shabbat Walks: Campaigning Lieberman Style

January 14, 2003
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On the campaign trail in 2000, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) made headlines everywhere he went. Not only was he the Democratic vice presidential nominee, running with then-Vice President Al Gore, but he was the first Jew to be his party’s nominee in a nationwide election.

In the new book, "An Amazing Adventure: Joe and Hadassah’s Personal Notes on the 2000 Campaign," Lieberman and his wife reflect on how faith played a role not just in the candidate’s policy statements, but the logistics of the campaign.

In light of the senator’s announcement Monday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2004, the book provides a timely window into campaigning Lieberman style. It is complete with controversial discussions of God at campaign events, Saturdays off and kosher food.

A quick read, Lieberman’s book divulges few secrets or inside gossip about the life on a national campaign trail.

However, it does provide much detail about Lieberman’s faith and may be a convenient guide for voters unclear of the ramifications of picking an observant Jew for president.

The Liebermans’ story starts where the senator’s campaign starts, receiving the news that he has been selected as the Democrats’ nominee for vice president.

Faith quickly meets politics, as he recites morning prayers to calm himself amid a sea of excitement in his home, and pauses to kiss the mezuzah as he leaves the house to meet the media for the first time as a candidate.

"When we leave the house, we always kiss the mezuzah," Hadassah Lieberman writes. "That’s a routine gesture for us, but this time, I almost forget to kiss it until Joey reminds me to. There I am, in prime time, as the press films me doing something I do every time I leave the house."

In the book, the senator reflects on the questions that were raised within the Democratic leadership about whether the world was ready for a Jewish candidate on the national ticket, whether Lieberman would face anti-Semitism, and if Gore would lose votes because of his running mate.

"I came to believe," the book quotes Gore as saying to Lieberman, "there was a difference between anti-Semitism and the fear of anti-Semitism. A lot of people told me that your religion would be a problem, but I concluded that their fear of anti-Semitism exceeded anti-Semitism itself."

The couple speaks vividly about Holocaust survivors waiting hours to see the Jewish candidate or his wife, who would roll up their sleeves to show their concentration camp numbers burned into the flesh of their arm.

However, Lieberman did meet some who felt his campaign was bad for the Jewish people.

In New Haven, Conn., an elderly Jewish woman Lieberman had known "forever" said she had hoped Lieberman wouldn’t be selected because "if you get elected and the economy goes down, they’ll blame us."

In the book, the senator shows obvious disdain for the ridicule he received from some Jewish groups — he repeatedly mentions the Anti-Defamation League by name — for expressing his faith at his campaign appearances.

But he says he was convinced that most Americans respected his religious observance and his interest in discussing it.

"I wanted to be who I am, and prayer and faith are at the center of my life and of my family’s life," the senator writes.

"The same is true of many Americans, and I have never understood why some people feel that when you go into public life you lose the freedom to talk about your faith."

The Liebermans speak of some of the difficulties of observing the Sabbath — not to mention the High Holidays — while campaigning for the White House, and some of the adjustments they made to express their faith.

In keeping with the tradition not to ride on Shabbat, the Liebermans write about taking long walks to the nearest synagogue in various campaign stops.

"My campaign staff came to appreciate Shabbat: they needed down time, too," he writes.

Kosher food was brought to their hotels throughout the campaign by Lubavitch rabbis who knew their locales even though they were supposed to be a secret.

And a sukkah booth was crafted next to the Secret Service station outside the Lieberman’s Washington home.

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