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You Go, Joe

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Within weeks after the Supreme Court decided the last election, while Gore grew a beard and disappeared into self-imposed exile, Lieberman had already begun a thank-you tour of the campaign trail. Since January 2001, he's gone through airport security more than most traveling salesmen, visiting 31 states -- among them New Hampshire (five trips) and money-rich New York (twenty trips). "I decided that I would do everything one could do to get ready to run," he says. "I have my PAC, I'm looking at people. But it's true, the day after the election, November 6, I can't and I won't begin to hire."

Lieberman's two children from his first marriage, Rebecca, 33, who runs a Manhattan-based pro-voting nonprofit, and Matt, 35, a New Haven high-school English teacher, both took leaves from work to join the 2000 campaign. "My dad called the whole family together for Labor Day weekend, and we thought there was going to be a big announcement," says his daughter Rebecca, "but it turned out he just wanted a family weekend."

"'The ones most nervous about me running in the first place were Jews,' says Lieberman. 'Because of the whole history, the feeling that Jews will be blamed if things don’t go well.’"

Her brother, Matt, says, "You try not to think about it."

Hadassah Lieberman, Joe's second wife and the mother of their 14-year-old daughter, Hani, insists that the waiting is not bothering her. "If the question is, what are our lives going to be down the road, I just say, Deep-breathe."

The couple has written a chatty campaign memoir with journalist Sarah Crichton, An Amazing Adventure, to be published by Simon & Schuster in January. What's newsworthy in the book is how Lieberman tries to have it both ways: lavishly praising Gore and yet distancing himself from his former running mate, with numerous if-only-the-Gore-staff-had-listened-to-me critiques. Make no mistake: This is not a man who's strategizing to be Gore's No. 2 on the Democratic ticket again. "I haven't thought about it" is Lieberman's for-the-record comment.


Now for the shocking revelation, the fruit of dogged investigative reporting, that will blow the lid off Lieberman's carefully crafted persona: The man's eaten lobster. Once. "I didn't like it," he says, "but maybe that was psychological." (Yeah, yeah, he didn't inhale.)

We are sitting in Lieberman's Senate office -- it looks like an uninhabited movie set; the only thing on his desk is a red ball that he throws at the wall as a tension reliever -- discussing the role of Judaism in his life. His widowed mother, Marcia, told me in a phone interview that her son had rebelled against his Orthodox Jewish upbringing when he went to Yale ("I confronted him about it," she said). So I ask him about this un-Orthodox chapter. "It's interesting," he begins. "During college, I stopped observing the Sabbath. It was a limited rebellion, because I continued to pray every morning. In law school, I didn't eat kosher food."

He was not very observant in 1965 when he married his first wife, Betty Haas, a Reform Jew. (As their daughter, Rebecca, puts it, "My mom came from the kind of Reform family who grew up with a Christmas tree.") The couple met while interning in Connecticut senator Abe Ribicoff's office; she went on to become a psychiatric social worker. "We kept a kosher home, so my parents could visit us," Lieberman says. "I still wasn't observing the Sabbath. Then, in 1967, my grandmother died." Lieberman's maternal grandmother, Minnie Manger, was a deeply religious immigrant and a strong influence. "When she died, it's trite to say, I felt the torch had been passed," Lieberman says. "I had an obligation to carry on the religious tradition."


Lieberman's renewed interest in burrowing deeper into his faith was one of the wedges that pushed him and Betty apart -- they divorced in 1981. As Lieberman became increasingly involved in politics, she resented the public life and his busy work-plus-temple schedule. "They argued," Rebecca says. "It wasn't surprising to me when they got divorced." Matt agrees. "I felt as a kid that the divorce was the right thing," he says, "because the marriage wasn't working." Lieberman himself simply says the couple grew apart. "One of the differences we had was in levels of religious observance," he says. "But I'm convinced if that was the only difference, we wouldn't have gotten divorced." In Lieberman's 1988 upset of GOP incumbent Senator Lowell Weicker, his religion was mostly discussed in terms of his inability to campaign on Saturdays. But that changed when Gore chose Lieberman for the VP slot.

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic and a Lieberman pal who attends the same shul, Kesher Israel, says, "Joe has never run for chief rabbi, and he never will. Before the campaign, he was a Democratic senator who happened to be Orthodox. He never hid it, but it wasn't something he displayed -- now, in a conservative time, it has come to be italicized."


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