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Lieberman's first Shabbat in DC wild scene

Special to
August 21, 2000

Following Al Gore’s selection of Senator Joseph Lieberman (D- Conn.) as his running mate, Lieberman’s every move has been recorded by the media and the American Jewish community. As has been noted extensively, Lieberman does not campaign on Shabbat; his return to Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., for the first Shabbat following the announcement came with much fanfare.

The sense of surrealism continued and the euphoria was tangible at Kesher Israel this past weekend, the first “Liebermania Shabbat.” Senator Lieberman, Hadassah and their daughter Hani were accompanied to shul by 15 to 20 secret service agents. Some walked beside them; most trailed slowly behind in an SUV and one of those black vans with all the techno equipment.

The large crowd was unusual for the summer, but this was not a usual Shabbat. The media was there to film him walking in. The shul gave out a statement letter to the media, welcoming them to observe or participate in Kesher, but requesting that no cameras, laptops, pens, notepads, etc. be used inside the shul; and that the media not attempt to interview service-goers on Shabbat. About five secret service agents went into shul. By and large they blended in very well, probably because Kesher has a relatively diverse membership with a relatively diverse dress code.

A couple of agents were wearing the white, silk, bar-mitzvah-special kippah, but most were wearing knit kippot, and were indistinguishable.

There was a female agent to protect Hadassah, and word is that Hani gave an excellent tutorial on the services to her.

Senator Lieberman got an aliyah, after which the shul burst into “Siman Tov Mazel Tov,” which is usually reserved for aufrufs [the Shabbat preceding a wedding], bar/bat mitzvahs, and the like. After Joe’s aliyah, the gabbai said a mishaberach (prayer for welfare) for Al Gore. After torah reading Rabbi Barry Freundel gave a short address on “Hilchot [Jewish laws of ]Vice President,” believed to be the first in history.

The major points were that security demands might in the future require a metal detector at the shul; the walk through kind would not be permissible, but the agent-held devices would not violate Shabbat and one could, and should, comply. Also, no interviews with the media were to be given on Shabbat.

In perhaps the first appearance in place of her husband, Hadassah was roped into the haftorah-kiddush club [an unofficial break for cake and drinks while services continue], which the Senator has traditionally attended. The secret service no doubt has even greater appreciation for Orthodox Judaism after seeing that 11 a.m. shots of single malt scotch are part of the observance.

The best l’chaim was “Next year in the White House.” Hadassah said they have not yet thought about whether they would, if elected, build a sukkah at the Naval Observatory, which is the vice president’s home.

The Rabbi’s sermon was based on a verse in VaEtchanan that states that following God’s commandments will give one wisdom that will be respected by the other nations of the world. The Rabbi noted that Senator Lieberman is an embodiment of the fulfillment of that verse.

Later, the president of the synagogue, Baruch Fellner, spoke very poignantly. Noting that the District of Columbia has very few electoral votes, Baruch said how we, as a community, are touched that the Shabbat after his being selected, Senator Lieberman was at Kesher Israel; and on behalf of the synagogue, welcomed him, Hadassah and Hani home.

Jack Guggenheim attends Kesher Israel every Shabbat.


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