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Joseph Lieberman

by Senator Joseph Lieberman
United States Senator and Vice Presidential Candidate    

The following is a transcript of remarks of Joseph Lieberman's speech at the Agudath Israel of America's 75th anniversary dinner - June 1, 1997:

Distinguished rabbonim, gedolei Torah, fellow honored guests, public officials, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends:

I thank David [Zwiebel, currently Agudath Israel's executive vice president for government and public affairs - ed.] for his kind words, but truly I have a lot of others to thank: Obviously Hashem for giving me life; my mother and father for showing me the way, and giving me not only the gift of a wonderful home, but the gift of Torah, and observant Torah Judaism; I thank all my family and friends; and all those in the State of Connecticut who have been so fair as to elect me; and of course I thank this great country of ours, which has given us more freedom, that I think that we, as a people, have had anywhere outside of Eretz Yisroel in our history!

David referred to the occasion in 1988 when I did not go to the nominating convention for the U.S. Senate because it was on Shabbos. And the truth is that it was enough in me that it never did give me a lot of consternation. But the wonder of this country, in a way that I never could have imagined, is that not only did it not hurt me, it actually helped my campaign. Because, I kept meeting people throughout the State of Connecticut, incidentally, not Jews, but gentiles - Jews usually gave me tzoris: "Why did you miss the convention at the Senate? Why couldn't you go?" - but those who were not Jewish, would say to me: "I respect you for putting something above political success." And they would often say: "We are different religions, but I believe in G-d the way you believe in G-d. And, the fact that you put something ahead of your political success, more than any particular position that you took on an issue in the campaign, is why I'm going to vote for you."

Well, my friends, we only won by 10,000 votes that year, that was less than 1%. So, you know, the Eibishter [Almighty] works in strange and wonderful ways, and who's to say whether it wasn't the fact that I didn't go to my convention on Shabbos, that gave me the margin of victory that boruch Hashem [thank G-d] made me a member of the U.S. Senate!

And, I have found the same as a member of the Senate, that my colleagues, when they understand my observance, give me great respect. It's something I appreciate deeply... I think I may have said to a few of you once before [that] the very first Shabbos that I had to be at the Capitol, because there were votes there, I was going to sleep over in my office. And then Senator Al Gore, probably because he had just finished campaigning for President in some of our neighborhoods in 1988, came over to me and said, "This is your Sabbath. Isn't it? Where are you going to stay tonight?"

I said, "I am going to sleep in my office."

"I won't let you do that. My parents have an apartment across the street. They're away."

You know, in good European fashion I rejected his offer twice. The third time, I accepted! And, that night, he took me across the street. He understood everything; turned on the lights, and turned off the lights when he left.

Looking back I didn't realize that it was my z'chus [merit] that I have had one of the prominent "Shabbos goyim" in the whole world! - who turned on and off all the lights. And I'm sure there are some people here from Baltimore. On the occasions when I have been at the Senate on the Sabbath (fortunately, they haven't been too often), without fail - I'm sure... as a result of the instruction that you in the Orthodox community of Baltimore around [the local] yeshiva have given to my colleague, Barbara Mikulski, Senator from Maryland - she always comes over to me and says "Good Shabbos Joe". How could it be better?

Anyway, the message that I hope this gives to your children and grandchildren is that today in America, no one has to chose between religious observance and personal ambition. I really do believe that our children, our grandchildren, can pursue whatever dreams they have for success, and not feel that they have to dilute their loyalty to Torah Judaism one millimeter. And I hope, that if my election and my service stand for nothing else, it is that!

I am honored to be here tonight. This is a very special dinner for Agudah, I know. 75 years... A remarkable record of accomplishment, with really chazak, chazak going from strength to strength. And, this happened because of the freedom that America has provided, and it happened because of the growing numbers of chassidim who are devoted to the various groups that have become part of the Agudah. But really, nothing like this happens without great leadership. And you, in my opinion, have had one of the great leaders, not just in the Orthodox Jewish community, but in all of America, [the now late president of Agudath Israel of America - ed.] Rabbi Moshe Sherer!

I wish I had met Rabbi Sherer earlier in my life, and I would have tried to convince him to become my campaign manager! Nobody better! He has built this organization to extraordinary strength within, and as you have grown in Agudah within, he has reached out and made Agudah strong, and credible, and influential in the greater world outside; building from within with loyalty to Torah; and the study groups; and the extraordinary broad programs of Torahs study and education; with the day schools, particularly bringing generation after generation in to the mainstream of true Torah Judaism. And with a very skillful hand, and with a strong hand when necessary, fighting for, advocating and advancing, and obtaining, unprecedented rights and respect for Orthodox Jews in this country.

Rabbi Sherer has been with the Agudah now for 54 years! I don't consider myself particularly an expert of gematria [Hebrew numerology] But you don't have to be too advanced to see there three times chai. So Rabbi Sherer, I wish you, I thank you for three times chai in which truly you have brought to life the principles and the purposes of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, our three forefathers. And may Hashem bless you with four and five and six and seven times chai, we need you! Thank you, Rabbi Moshe Sherer! I want to talk for a few minutes, very briefly, not just about the first extraordinary 75 years of Agudah.

I want to talk, if you allow me, about the 75 years and beyond. And in the spirit of the parshah of this week Bamidbar, I really want to talk about numbers. Because part of the strength of Agudah, the Torah-true Orthodox Jewish community, is in numbers.

But, I want to begin with an article that appeared in the Washington Jewish Week, the Jewish newspaper in Washington last week. I must admit that I did not see the article, but everybody in my shul in Washington was talking about it yesterday. The author of the article took the numbers, the census, of the national Jewish population study and projected four generations forward, based on rates of intermarriage and rates of birth in the various Jewish groups: non-affiliated Jews, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, and, tonight I'll say, Agudah Jews. And it was quite something, four generations forward.

How many of 100 secular Jews will still be Jewish by this prediction? Five. (Don't hold me exactly with my numbers, because I'm giving you this on hearsay...) How many of the Reform Jews will be Jewish in the fourth generation of the 100? Ten. How many of the conservative Jews? 40. How many of the Modern Orthodox Jews? From 100, there will be 350. How many of the Agudah Jews? From 100, 2500! [The exact numbers of that study, authored by Anthony Gordon and Richard Horowitz, are are 5, 13, 24, 346 and 2588, respectively - ed.]

This is a remarkable story. In some ways it is extraordinarily good news and in some ways, of course, for K'lal Yisroel, in a broader sense, it is very troubling news. It is of course good news because it tells us that if these trends continue, the number of [Jews] in [the] Torah [community] will increase enormously. But the bad news is of course what we will have lost is hundreds of thousands of "Yiddishe neshamos" [Jewish souls], a kind of bloodless extinction that will hurt K'lal Yisroel.

I want to suggest to you tonight: These 75 years of Agudah have seen extraordinary growth and strength. I'm going to believe that the next 75 years will see, as these numbers indicate, even more. As the Torah and our sages tell us, with that strength, and with that power, will come new responsibilities, and new accountability. Because the role of the Torah true Orthodox community within the American Jewish community, even if these numbers are not exactly right, by any standard or tradition will grow more important.

So I say, with greater importance, with greater strength, comes greater responsibility. We Orthodox Jews will, for more and more Americans, be the Jewish community, and it will become more and more important for us to truly be a light to the nations, to show them that we are not only ritualistically observant, but that we are committed to Kiddush Hashem [sanctification of G-d's name] in all of its manifestations, that we are committed to tzedokah [charity and acts of kindness], that we are committed to doing good work for our own community and for the community at large.

My friends, I could tell you: David has referred to the work that I've been doing in trying to convince people who run television and movies and music, to take the violence, to take the indecency, to take the vulgarity off of the airways. I can tell you when I go back to Connecticut or I travel anywhere around America, this is what people want to talk about.

In the 1992 campaign, somebody consulting with President Clinton said "It's the economy." Well, of course it's the economy, the economy is important. But last year there was a poll taken by the Los Angeles Times. People were asked "Are you more worried about the economic future of America or the moral future of America?" 60% of the people said that they were more worried about the moral future of America.

Agudath has the answer. Begin with an understanding of where we came from and where we're going and what our mission is here; why we're on earth... Agudah has a movement based on values, the best of values. And I say here that America is yearning for those values of family purity, honesty, avoidance of lashon hara [gossip], all that's involved in this [divine] law that we're commanded to follow.

I want to suggest yet another calling beyond the community, and that is we consider those numbers in the diminishing numbers of Jews in America. There is a special calling that I want to make to you tonight, an appeal to reach out and try to bring more into your/our community; to reach out to those souls that are fading away and show them the light and truth of Torah; to be in the best sense "missionaries" for other Yidden [Jews] so that those neshamos [souls] will not be lost.

We are coming to Shavuos. We are in the midst of the sefirah [the period of "counting" between Pesach and Shavuos] now. And to me, I've always been fascinated and disappointed and there's a kind of metaphor here for different schools of Judaism, the different denominations, that Pesach is the most popular of all Jewish holidays. Whatever the denomination, even if you don't belong to any denomination, almost everybody seems to celebrate Pesach. But, Shavuos may be one of the least observed of our holidays. And in that is the message, is the point, which is that those millions of Jews in this country who are celebrating whatever their way Pesach but forgetting Shavuos have missed the point. Yetzias Mitzrayim [the exodus from Egypt] was for freedom. But freedom without values and order leads to chaos. Yetzias Mittzrayim was for a purpose, which was to go to Har Sinai [Mt. Sinai], to receive the Torah, and to carry the Torah forward over the generations.

My friends, it is with great humility that I go to text in the presence of so many Gedolei Torah [illustrious Torah scholars]. But it struck me as I was reading as we approach Shavuos, that on the first day of Shavuos, in the Torah reading that day, we of course recall the movement of B'nei Yisroel [the Jewish people] to Har Sinai. And in the passage that is to familiar to most you, it is described that B'nei Yisroel encamped in the wilderness, bamidbar, and that there and elsewhere the word vayachanu - the plural word for camped, is used. But then when the words are repeated that Israel camped there, the Hebrew word is vayichan which is the singular... And, of course, Rashi brings us the lesson that what the Torah is telling us is that, at that climactic, difficult, greatest moment of Jewish history, the millions of children of Israel stood as one, one heart, one soul. Then, and only then, were they ready to receive their greatest calling which was to receive the direct word of Hashem and the Torah that we have taken on from there.

To achieve that unity, our Sages have reminded us over the generations since then, that each of us has an obligation to reach out and to be concerned about the spiritual and material needs of our fellow Jews, and I stress here the spiritual. You and Agudah have done that magnificently.

And, I appeal to you tonight, as we think about the disappearance of so many Jewish souls that are predicted by the numbers I have described that each of us in this great movement has to reach out and bring them back. Sit with them, talk to them. We cannot dilute our halachic beliefs. But we have to try to convince them to come in our direction and convince them that we understand the principle of ahavas Yisroel [love of fellow Jews]. So that we will move again toward that same kind of unity that enabled B'nei Yisroel to receive the Torah on Har Sinai. So that next week, on Shavuos, and on each succeeding Shavuos, Klal Yisroel will grow stronger because we will grow closer together.

And I say to you in this country, and in Eretz Yisroel [the land of Israel], the role of Agudah, the leadership role of Agudah, will grow stronger and stronger. In some measure it will be especially up to you to bring us to duplicate once again the unity the B'nei Yisroel experienced at Har Sinai, so that thereby we under the direction of the Gedolei Torah will merit once again the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu b'mheira b'yomeinu [the righteous Messiah, quickly, in our days]. Thank you very much.


  LEAP OF FAITH: More about Lieberman on Torah from Dixie
JOE LIEBERMAN: JUST ANOTHER HENRY KISSINGER?: Joseph Lieberman observes Shabbat, eats kosher, has impeccable moral character -- and is suddenly the new voice of American Jewry. Torah from Dixie contributing writer Rabbi David Zauderer explores the religious magnitude of nominating an Orthodox Jewish vice-president, taking an in-depth look at its effect on American society, all the while tying it together beautifully with a thought from the Torah portion.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: LIEBERMAN ON LIEBERMAN: Read a transcript of Senator Joseph Lieberman's speech at Agudath Israel of America's 75th anniversary dinner on June 1, 1997. In his speech, he tells a story of the time when Al Gore was once his "Shabbos Goy" and helped Lieberman keep Shabbat.
THE CHOSEN: LESSONS FROM LIEBERMAN: Eytan Kobre explains why Lieberman was chosen "because" of his Judaism and not "in spite" of it.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE: OF MASHIACH AND LIEBERMAN: Torah from Dixie contributing writer Levi Graiser takes a look at the miraculous nature of Lieberman's nomination.

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