Lieberman speaks politically, Jewishly and candidly

BOSTON — In his first major interview with a Jewish newspaper since being nominated, Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman shared his opinions on the status of Jerusalem, American Jewry and Torah.

Lieberman was in Boston last week for two Democratic fund-raising events. The first event, a $10,000 per plate luncheon for 50 Jewish guests garnered nearly $500,000. The evening event, which featured a three-song musical appearance by James Taylor, was highlighted by an address from Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. The two events raised nearly $2.5 million for the Gore-Lieberman campaign.

Despite a hectic schedule that took him from Washington to New York to Boston in less than three hours, the Connecticut senator seemed invigorated by the news of the Democratic ticket's ascent in the polls. He wore a pin-striped suit and a red tie, his graying blond hair combed immaculately. Lieberman's deep blue eyes expressed a joy he has repeatedly articulated since becoming the first Jew to be nominated for vice president by a major political party.

When asked if he had a message to convey to American Jewry, Lieberman spoke of the opportunities America has granted not only to Jews but to members of all faiths. "America is not just a change of address, it's a change. It's a unique country in world history, because it's premised on equal opportunity and tolerance. And I happen to have the good fortune of being a great beneficiary of that.

"So, I think what it says to everybody in this country is that you should feel free to be yourself in America, and know that in doing so, you enrich the country," the vice presidential candidate said.

He encouraged Jews to give back to America by embracing public service and volunteer work and "to do good deeds; acts of charity." American Jews, said Lieberman, should also feel "real gratitude to this country for the extraordinary freedom it provides to all citizens."

Referring to Judaism as the "the foundation of my life," the 58-year-old Orthodox Jew spoke about the importance of action in his faith. "I've always felt that Judaism is a religion of action, not just study. It begins with faith, and then it goes to study, but then the test is: Are you doing something to make the world better, tikkun olam," the senator said.

When asked if he could point to any specific passages or stories in the Torah that he draws strength or inspiration from, Lieberman pointed to the text as one complete work. "The Torah is so full of inspiration," he declared. "It's such a human — and at the same time — so inspiring a document, that I've drawn strength and lessons from the whole of the experience. I don't think of anything specifically."

He also stressed that while the Torah is a major influence in his life, it is not the only influence. "You know, people ask me sometimes the effect of my faith on public service, and I always say that my faith has informed my service just as so many of the other experiences in my life have. The lessons my parents taught me, the lessons I learned from studying history and reading biographies, and then the lessons you learn from your experience. But there's no question that my religion is one of those sources," he emphasized.

On the subject of dividing Jerusalem, Lieberman seemed to embrace the same politics as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He favors a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, but did not directly object to the notion of Palestinians having a piece of Jerusalem.

Said Lieberman, "It's a matter of American policies adopted in a piece of legislation that I co-sponsored along with a broad group of senators from both parties; that we should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that our embassy should be there. You know, I think in the specifics of this moment — which is a sensitive moment in which President Clinton is clearly trying to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East and one of the central questions is Jerusalem — I should leave it to the leadership of Israel and the Palestinians to continue to negotiate without my opining on it.

"Because ultimately they're the ones who have to live with it," he emphasized.

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