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Home > News & Politics > U.S. News > Mom's a politician, too

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Mom's a politician, too
Marcia Lieberman deftly fields questions
about her son

The New York Jewish Week
October 4, 2000

NEW YORK—Never mind the cluttered desk, the stacks of scholarly books. Tonight, the rabbi's study is transformed, more touched by Hollywood than holiness. Eager fans wait beyond the closed door. Cameras flash relentlessly from both sides of the room. And in the center of it all, wearing a string of proper pearls, a pale blue dress, and displaying the poise of a veteran politician, sits the 85-year-old mother of Joseph Lieberman.

Marcia Lieberman isn't fazed by all the fuss. After all, she's surmounted tougher obstacles, traveled in the loftiest circles: Lieberman, who walks with a cane, jokes that she recently tried to shake the security personnel from her trail while out shopping in the mall with her granddaughter Hana. She's moved in the company of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Last month, Lieberman starred in a segment of the Larry King Live show.

Certainly, she knows how to handle one reporter in the small office of an Orthodox synagogue in Queens.

"I see my husband," she says matter-of-factly, answering which parent resembles the Democratic vice-presidential nominee. Then without missing a beat, she adds, "He is smart like him, but good looking like me."

She laughs merrily. "Right?" She looks up expectantly, offering a gaze that is sweet but no-nonsense. It is an expression that says there will be no further elaboration. Next question.

The reporter pitches a tougher one, whose answer relies on maternal insight: "What is the best way to deal with your son when he is angry?"

Anger? In Joseph Lieberman? Perish the thought. Not in such a son, one who calls his mother every day and who still carries the groceries into her Stamford home.

"He never gets angry. Who says he gets angry? Joe doesn't get angry," says Lieberman, her flat tones hinting at her New England upbringing, her voice never once betraying annoyance.

"As Brendan will tell you, and he's worked for him for how long?" She turns to her son's special assistant, Brendan Caroll, a fresh-faced 23-year-old who's been loaned to the candidate's mother for a couple of days. The aide doesn't disappoint. "I've known him for four years and I've never known him to get angry," he says.

Suddenly the door swings open, pushed by an entourage of admirers, here tonight at the Young Israel of Hillcrest for a program organized by AMIT, a nonprofit that runs a network of Israeli schools. The AMIT panel discussion, "Remarkable Mothers of Notable Sons," which is to follow this 15-minute interview, features Claire Dershowitz, mother of Alan Dershowitz, among other maternal luminaries, including Lieberman.

But not everyone has the patience to wait until the program begins, what with a national celebrity in their midst. Soon about a dozen women are gathered about the chair, laughing, chattering and shaking Lieberman's hand. The candidate's mother smiles politely, exchanging small talk with her supporters. The noise level escalates; the room begins to sound like a cocktail party.

"I'm used to this. I had it so I was almost glad to get away from Stamford," Lieberman says afterward. She left her Connecticut home behind to move in with her 12-year-old granddaughter in Washington, while the girl's parents rally the nation's voters. She chuckles. "It was-maddening," she says with a prolonged emphasis on the last word.

Her tone softens, perhaps she recalls that her comments are on-the-record. She adds, "It's nice to be thought of."

Lieberman remembers that the conversation had earlier broached her mother, Minnie Manger, who settled in Stamford in 1908. Manger later lived with the Lieberman family and "brought with her a great deal of warmth, love and Jewish customs into the home."

"You have to remember that we lived in a community that at that time had 3 percent Jews," says Lieberman. "And Shabbosim were a nightmare because everyone went to the beach and everyone went to the movies, and Joe and the girls had to be home. So if it was a nice day on Saturday, always we went to shul, and we would invite children to come for lunch and to spend the day."

Later, in the filled-to-capacity sanctuary of the Young Israel, Lieberman raises her eyebrows, offering a suggestion of irony during the moderator's introduction, "Joseph Lieberman is OK but [his] mother is remarkable."

Lieberman tells the crowd, which includes Alan Dershowitz, of how she "spoiled but loved" her three children. She notes that her son did not receive a yeshiva education because there weren't any local day schools at the time.

Instead he attended Hebrew school five days a week.

She tells of learning of her son's nomination, how her daughter-in-law woke her on that August morning, and how she glanced at Hadassah's ashen face, and thought, "Thank God it's over." But it was only the beginning.

"The world was shocked," recounts Lieberman as the Young Israel breaks into hearty applause.

"It was nothing short of a miracle that Gore picked an Orthodox Jewish young man to be his mate," she says. (Joseph Lieberman is 58.)

And while answering a question on sibling rivalry, Lieberman grabs firm hold of the mike, and reminds the audience to vote. "The day of election is very important all the time and especially important this year!"

Her son is reported to have said it first: If she'd been born in the next generation, Marcia Lieberman may well have been the one stomping on the campaign trail.

© The Jewish Week, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.


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