Joe Lieberman Remembered as a Man of Faith & Integrity

Joe Lieberman Remembered as a Man of Faith & Integrity March 29, 2024


The late Sen. Joe Lieberman, left, talked with students at Roanoke College after delivering a speech on government partisanship in 2013. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

‘He Believed in Something Beyond Himself’

Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman was a man of faith, integrity and deeply held convictions according to friends and colleagues. And today, the people who knew him best join other Americans in mourning his death on Wednesday. Lieberman, who died from complications related to a fall, was 82.

Lieberman served as a U.S. Senator from Connecticut for four terms and was Democrat Al Gore’s running mate in the disputed 2000 election. As such, he was the first Jewish American to be nominated for a national office.

“He Stuck to His Principles”

Our nation is already missing this man of faith – especially when one considers the nation’s political landscape and the values of some leaders now in power. Lieberman stood in sharp contrast to many of them.

Former President Barack Obama praised Lieberman, saying the former senator “worked hard to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and helped us pass the Affordable Care Act. In both cases the politics were difficult, but he stuck to his principles because he knew it was the right thing to do,” Obama said.

“…he believed in something beyond himself, beyond getting elected, beyond making a lot of money,” according to James Segaloff, who practiced law with Lieberman in New Haven following the latter’s graduation from Yale University. At the time, Lieberman also served in the Connecticut state senate.

“It wasn’t a show. It was a very deep feeling about who he was,” Segaloff said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called Lieberman “a fierce advocate, a man of deep conscience and conviction, and a courageous leader who sought to bridge gaps and bring people together.

“He was dedicated to family and faith, and he was a role model of public service. He never ceased listening to both friends and adversaries,” Sen. Blumenthal said.

Lieberman “leaves an enduring legacy as a fighter for consumers, environmental values, civil rights, and other great causes of our time, and he was tireless in working for Connecticut no matter how far or high he went,” his former colleague said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) praised Lieberman, as well. “In an era of political carbon copies, Joe Lieberman was a singularity. One of one. He fought and won for what he believed was right and for the state he adored.”

Lieberman’s Faith

“My Jewish faith is central to my life,” Lieberman said during a speech at Brigham Young University several years ago. “I was raised in a religiously observant family. Given to me by my parents and formed by my rabbis, my faith has provided me with a foundation, an order, and a sense of purpose in my life….

“I think people probably know what I don’t do from Friday night sundown to Saturday night sundown (the Jewish sabbath) – which is I don’t work unless there’s an emergency of some kind.”

He noted that America has “lost something” because Americans have become less observant of the sabbath. “I believe that this day – this institution, thousands of years old – is probably more relevant and necessary today than ever before.

“And it is relevant not just in a religious sense but in a quality-of-life sense, because we’re all working so hard and we never get away from work unless we choose to.”

Freedom for All Religions

In his speech at BYU, Lieberman talked about faith and government and a book he wrote, in part, for Jews who might not observe the Sabbath as much as he would like. But he explained that The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath was a book for people of all faiths or no faith. His hope in writing it was that people would accept the gift of the sabbath.

While most Americans believe in God, Lieberman told the audience at BYU, people should respect the rights of those who don’t share their beliefs.

Thus, America’s founding fathers rejected an official religion in the United States “even though Christians were, and are now, a large majority in this country,” the former senator said.

It was important that Americans live under a constitution that gave everyone the right to worship – or not worship – as they chose, he explained.

And as we approach the 2024 election, Americans face a real danger of losing that right.

“Our unique constitutional history created in turn a unique American public square in which there is no establishment of one religion but freedom for all religions….

“The greatest laws that are written, including our constitution, are the ones that are so broadly accepted by the people of a nation such as ours that they become not just laws that one feels compelled to follow, because they are the law, but part of the fiber of the country; they become part of our national system of ethics.”

Values Rooted in Faith

In his BYU speech, Lieberman also recalled his involvement as a college student in the civil rights movement. He noted that its leader was “a religious figure” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., — and explained, “I, myself, was inspired to join that movement because of the values it represented, which were deeply rooted in my own faith and religious history: the values of equality, of service, of tolerance, and of respect for law.”

Lieberman lauded the election of a Roman Catholic — John F. Kennedy – to the presidency in 1960. “I will tell you that as a young Jewish American (though I was not thinking of a political career, believe me, at age eighteen), when he won, I had some sense that doors had opened for me, that somehow a horizon had expanded for me and for others.”

Lieberman ran Robert F. Kennedy’s Connecticut presidential campaign in 1968 and was elected to the Connecticut state senate, representing New Haven, in 1970. Between 1972 and 1983, he was a partner in the Lieberman, Segaloff and Wolfson law firm and in 1980, made an unsuccessful run for Congress, according to CNN.

The former senator served as Connecticut’s attorney general from 1983 to 1988 and became the first Orthodox Jew to win election to the U.S. Senate in 1988. He held the seat until his retirement in January 2013.

Lieberman authored several books, including An Amazing Adventure: Joe and Hadassah’s Personal Notes on the 2000 Campaign with his wife. It was published in January 2003. A few days after the book’s publication, Lieberman announced his candidacy for president, but ended the campaign in early 2004.

The long-time Democrat came close to losing his Senate seat in the 2006 Democratic primary. But following the primary loss, he entered the race as an independent and won the general election later that year.

In 2007, Lieberman endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain for president and lost his seat on the Environment and Public Works Committee. However, he remained chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

More recently, Lieberman was named chairman of United Against Nuclear Iran, which campaigns for sanctions against Iran. And in December 2024, Yeshiva University established the Senator Joseph Lieberman Center for Public Service and Advocacy in his honor.

“The Greatest Source of America’s Strength….”

Lieberman once said that the greatest source of America’s strength isn’t the “current divisive and rigid politics of Washington…. Instead, it is in the broadly shared faith and values of the American people and in the reasons for unity and inspiration to serve that so many of us find in the varied houses of worship we attend in this country.”

As the nation joins Lieberman’s family and friends in mourning his loss, the Jewish response to such news seems appropriate: Baruch Dayan emet, which means “Bless the Righteous Judge.”

Bless him, indeed.

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