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Jewish educators see Lieberman as role model


HEMPSTEAD, N.Y., Aug. 15 (JTA) — Jewish educators hope that Al Gore’s selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate will do more than make Judaism more acceptable to non-Jews.

They want it to make Judaism more palatable to Jews.

At the 25th anniversary conference this week of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, several religious school principals and teachers said they hope Lieberman will become a role model for their students. They point out that Lieberman is an American Jew who has managed to balance religious commitment with success in the secular world.

Eva Eliason, a teacher in a Reform synagogue in Cedar Grove, N.J., initially expressed skepticism when asked that Lieberman’s selection represents a milestone at all — with other Jews like Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in high echelons of power.

But, she said, “because everyone’s oohing and ahhing” about Lieberman and his religious observance, “maybe people will think about keeping Shabbat.”

“It’s almost like a fashion,” she added.

Stacy Garnick, education director at a Reform temple in Chelmsford, Mass., said Lieberman’s appointment shows Jewish kids they “can grow up to be anything as a Jew.”

“I hope it strengthens people’s pride about their heritage, rather than seeing it as a detriment,” she added.

“I’m excited about our kids having a role model,” said Merle Steinberg, a religious school director in Cherry Hill, N.J., adding that “it makes it really cool to be Jewish.”

“We’ve always taught the kids that the sky’s the limit,” said Beverly Goldberg, program director and B’nai Mitzvah coordinator at a Reform congregation in suburban Philadelphia, adding that Lieberman is “such a wonderful role model.”

One longtime CAJE activist who did not want his name used because he is a professional fund-raiser for politicians, called Lieberman’s selection a “landmark for Jewish education,” and asked “Can you imagine how many Jews will learn about Sukkot when the vice president walks into his sukkah?”

Some doubted, however, that Lieberman will make much of a difference on the identity of assimilated American Jews.

Steven Steinbock, a teacher and Bar Mitzvah tutor in Yarmouth, Me., said the Lieberman selection represents a “significant change in American society,” but predicted his impact on Jewish identity would be “minimal.”

“Congressmen have a bigger presence than the vice president,” he said. “There’s not going to be a huge response.”

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