A Jew first, a senator second

The selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as Vice President Al Gore's running mate fills many of us with mixed emotions.

On one hand, we are proud a Jew has finally been picked by a major political party.

On the other hand, we must question why it has taken so long, even those of us who remember that Abraham Ribicoff, another Jewish senator from Connecticut, was offered — and rejected — the same role three decades ago.

Here we are in the year 2000, and 224 years had to pass since the birth of our nation before a Jew could be on a major national ticket.

The instant debate stirred by Lieberman's selection shows that Jews are still a minority in America.

Over and over again this week we've been reminded by headlines and media discusssions that Gore didn't just pick a member of the Senate to be his running mate: He picked a Jew.

Did anyone discuss Dick Cheney's religion when Gov. George W. Bush selected him? How many think about what religion Bush and Gore are? They are all Christians, and most people don't give it a second thought.

Sadly, for much of America, Lieberman is a Jew first, a senator second. The rest of his attributes or faults are obscured by his religious beliefs.

Even the fact that he was the first Democrat Congressman to criticize Clinton in the Lewinsky mess has taken second place. His long record or service has been pushed into the background.

Lieberman is considered by Democrats and Republicans alike to be a man of high moral character and integrity. Throughout the campaign, however, he will be identified as the first Jew to run on a major party ticket. If he is elected, the headlines will proclaim him the first Jew to hold the office.

And if Gore and Lieberman lose, won't political pundits jump to say Americans weren't ready for a Jew to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?

We long for a day when a Jew — or any other minority — can run for either of our two highest offices and not be identified by that status. For now, though, our religion still makes us "different" in Christian America.

But the bottom line is: As Jews, whether or not we like Lieberman, we should be proud he is running.