Former US Sen. Joe Lieberman remembered as ‘mensch’ who bridged political divides


STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — Former Vice President Al Gore and other politician dignitaries remembered the late Joe Lieberman Friday as a “mensch” who both bridged partisan political divides and wasn’t afraid to go against mainstream political currents, during a packed funeral service for the four-term U.S. senator.

Noting there is no English equivalent for the Yiddish term, Gore — who ran for president on a Democratic ticket with Lieberman in the disputed 2000 election — told mourners at a synagogue in Stamford, Connecticut, that they could find its meaning just by looking at his former running mate, who passed away this week at 82.

“Those who seek its definition will not find it in dictionaries so much as they find it in the way Joe Lieberman lived his life: friendship over anger, reconciliation as a form of grace,” Gore said. “We can learn from Joe Lieberman’s life some critical lessons about how we might heal the rancor in our nation today.”

Top Connecticut Democrats, including Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Gov. Ned Lamont — Lieberman’s one-time rival for the Senate seat — shared similar sentiments.

Lamont said his acquaintance with Lieberman started on “an inauspicious note” when they ran against each other in 2006. After Lamont defeated the incumbent Lieberman in the Democratic primary for his Senate seat, Lieberman ran as an independent and defeated Lamont.

Lamont said Lieberman loved Frank Sinatra songs, especially “My Way.” “He did it his way,” Lamont said. “He never quite fit in that Republican or Democratic box. I think maybe in an odd way I helped liberate him because when he beat me — he beat me pretty good, by the way — he won as an independent.”

Lamont said Lieberman “was always a calming presence” and a “bridge over troubled waters as you see the partisan sniping from both directions.”

Blumenthal recalled Lieberman’s “tremendous accomplishments,” including helping to form the Department of Homeland Security and championing civil rights, voting rights, women’s reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights. “But the greatest accomplishment of his life was his marriage to Hadassah and their children and grandchildren,” Blumenthal said.

Services were held at Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford. For Lieberman, a self-described observant Jew who followed the rules of the Jewish Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the congregation played a key role early on in his life.

He once recalled how the congregation’s former synagogue building was “a place that gave me the first sense of religion; a very special uplift,” according to a posting on the congregation’s website.

“I feel very lucky — my adherence to the Jewish tradition is really an asset,” he said. “Religious Catholics and Protestants find a bond of common value with my beliefs and stand. It is this that makes me so proud of being an American.”

Lieberman’s youngest daughter, Hana Lowenstein, who moved to Israel in 2018 with her family, said tearfully that she had prayed, “Please God, give my father many more years. Let him see all of my kids’ bar mitzvahs, their weddings, his great-grandchildren.” But she said God “had other plans.”

Lowenstein said that observing the Jewish Sabbath was “very dear” to her father and he would walk 5 miles (8 kilometers) in order to abide by the Sabbath prohibition on riding in a motor vehicle. “You were literally someone who was sanctifying God’s name by everything you did,” she said.

Matthew Lieberman, the former senator’s son from his first marriage, said Lieberman “was a blessing for all of us” but “a solid slice of people” nevertheless developed a hate for him.

Despite that animosity, Matthew Lieberman said his father encouraged others to not let those disagreements devolve into hatred. “We’re not the Hatfields and McCoys here,” Matthew Lieberman said. “We’re Americans, we’re fellow citizens in the greatest country in the history of the world. We’re all humans and we’re all we’ve got.”

Lieberman, a former state Senate leader and attorney general, was long known for his pragmatic, independent streak. After losing the chance to serve as vice president with the Democrat Gore, he came close to becoming Republican John McCain’s running mate in 2008. However, conservatives balked at the idea of tapping Lieberman, who was known for supporting gay rights, civil rights, abortion rights and environmental causes while taking a hawkish stand on military and national security matters.

President Joe Biden on Thursday called Lieberman a friend, someone who was “principled, steadfast and unafraid to stand up for what he thought was right.”

“Joe believed in a shared purpose of serving something bigger than ourselves,” Biden, who served 20 years in the Senate with Lieberman, said in his statement. “He lived the values of his faith as he worked to repair the wounds of the world.”

Lieberman came tantalizingly close to winning the vice presidency in the contentious 2000 presidential contest that was decided by a 537-vote margin victory for George W. Bush over Gore in Florida after a drawn-out recount, legal challenges and a Supreme Court decision. He was the first Jewish candidate on a major party’s presidential ticket.

Over the last decade, Lieberman helped lead No Labels, a centrist third-party movement that has said it will offer as-yet-unnamed candidates for president and vice president this year. Some groups aligned with Democrats oppose the effort, fearing it will help presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump win the White House.

Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, have four children.


This story has been corrected to show that Lieberman was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, not 1980.

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