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From Capitol Hill to Washington Heights: Joe Lieberman Speaks at YU

Surrounded by American, Israeli, and YU flags, former Senator Joseph Lieberman gave his first speech at Yeshiva University last Tuesday, October 28th. Speaking to a crowded Weissberg Commons, Lieberman delivered his inaugural public lecture as a YU faculty member, his first of three scheduled for the year. Following a life of public service, Senator Lieberman’s next step is stepping up to fill the new, aptly named Joseph Lieberman Chair in Public Policy and Public Service at Yeshiva University, generously endowed by Ira and Inge Rennert.

In his speech, Senator Lieberman expressed his hopes for what this kind of position could do for the future of American Jewry. “I believe this chair has a unique and important mission in the years ahead, which is to help YU educate coming generations of Jewish women and men in public policy; and to inspire and prepare them for public service.” Lieberman went on to explain why this is so important, due to the growing Orthodox Jewish community and the resulting need for leaders.

He made a point as well to express his hopes for these leaders to not just stay within the Orthodox world, but to also be representatives of their communities through service as elected officials of this great country.

Lieberman’s next point was that Yeshiva University is the best place for this chair. “In my opinion, YU is the very best place for such a chair to be created, because this great university has been dedicated since its founding to educating Orthodox Jews in Torah U’Maddah…I think YU has made a very powerful statement that an Orthodox Jewish university has a responsibility to educate its students in more than Jewish studies, it educates its students broadly…I view it [YU] as you look back over it, as progressive and even revolutionary in its time. So I hope that this chair will continue to expand that tradition…and advance Orthodox Jewish outreach and service because, in my layman’s opinion, that is what Torah requires of us.”

Senator Lieberman went on to mention how lessons of Torah and Judaism from his parents and rabbis inspired him to go into public service. He cited numerous examples from Tanach where leaders were made and how he learned to lead from their actions. He said his parents taught him to never be ashamed of his religion, and that he was never worried it would hold him back from a life of public service. In fact, his colleagues were always very respectful of his commitment to religion.

On this note, he described a personal experience he had with former Connecticut State Senate Majority leader Ed Caldwell. Senator Caldwell was once able to hold off a vote on the budget until after Shabbat so that Joseph Lieberman, in his very first session in the state senate, could be there to vote. The Bridgeport Post titled the resulting news article “Butch Caldwell and the Sundown Kid.”

In a Q&A session after his speech, Senator Lieberman emphasized his point of creating the next Jewish leaders. An audience member asked if with the growing rise of anti-Semitism in America if it would be possible for Jews to run again for public office. To this query, Senator Lieberman responded: “Yes, but we must fight to make it so.” In effect, he said it is the responsibility of Yeshiva University students to help make those possibilities a reality.

Professor Lieberman, who will be giving two more speeches in the coming weeks and teaching an undergraduate class in the spring, is coming full circle. He was a leader born from his environment. He was built by his family, religion and leaders and became a leader himself. He is now beginning to fashion the next round of leaders in the greatest way possible - by educating them and setting them on their path to greatness.