Lieberman remembered for devotion to service


Joe Lieberman, who died last week at 82, may have represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate, but his ties to Riverdale ran deep.

The man who nearly became the first Jewish American vice president was an active and regular participant at the Riverdale Jewish Center with his wife, Hadassah Freilich, and had grandchildren at the SAR schools.

In the wake of Lieberman’s passing at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital following complications from a fall, there has been an outpour of tributes and memories shared by the local elected officials who represented him in his later years, those who knew him and considered him a friend, and those who loved him.

“I think it’s important to appreciate that, despite his larger-than-life political persona, what made Sen. Lieberman special in our community was he was just a humble beloved member on a regular day or regular Shabbat,” Rabbi Dovid Zirkind said. “He was everybody’s friend in shul. People loved getting to know him and spend quality time with him, davening with him during services, or joining him for kiddush.”

SAR Academy principal Rabbi Binyamin Krauss described Lieberman as a champion of Israel who took pride in the local private Jewish schools. Krauss, who had last seen Lieberman only a few weeks ago, explained how the senator was someone the community looked to for leadership, wisdom and guidance.

“We consider ourselves a Modern Orthodox school, which is basically about being committed to observance, committed to our heritage, and engaged in the world,” Krauss said. “And for many people, Joe Lieberman was the model of that. And I think, for a lot of kids and our families, that is something we aspire to.”

It was at the school that SAR president Jack Bendheim first met Lieberman. Back then, Hadassah was just his girlfriend, and a parent at SAR. Later, Bendheim conducted a fundraiser for Lieberman in Riverdale when he was running for Connecticut attorney general, and to the two became friends for life.

“I would go visit in Washington, I would visit with him often,” Bendheim said. “And ultimately after he left the senate, he moved to Riverdale, so it went full circle. He raised wonderful children. He was a great husband, and I’m sort of still shocked.”

When thinking about a memorable moment he shared with Lieberman, Bendheim recalled a pair of socks.

“I was with him someplace in D.C. in a hotel, and all of a sudden I noticed he took out of his pocket a pair of socks,” Bendheim said. “And I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said he had learned from an old political guy in Connecticut that the best way to sort of reawaken you after a long day of standing on your feet and campaigning was putting on a new pair of socks.

“When he got the nomination as vice president, we were in Los Angeles. I went out and bought him two dozen pairs of socks.”

Lieberman moved to Riverdale in 2013 — about six months after leaving the senate. After redistricting a couple years ago, he became a constituent of U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres.

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Sen. Joseph Lieberman,” Torres shared on social media. “He had an unfailing graciousness and generosity of spirit. He had a profound love for his country, which he spent a lifetime serving admirably.”

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said he, too, mourned the former senator and first Jewish vice presidential nominee of a major party.

“As I reflect on Sen. Lieberman’s extraordinary life and legacy, I will remember his tireless advocacy for the American people, his unwavering commitment to his faith, and his enduring belief in the power of democracy to uplift and unite us all,” Dinowitz said, in a statement. “His loss leaves a void in our political discourse, but his example will continue to inspire future leaders to pursue the common good above all else.”

Councilman Eric Dinowitz told The Riverdale Press he would often see Lieberman at the Jewish center, or while on Johnson Avenue.

“It was very cool when you’re campaigning, handing out flyers, and then the senator comes up to you,” the councilman said. “And I remember 20 years ago volunteering for him in his senate race, driving up to Connecticut to help him out. He was so incredibly impactful in the senate, and here in our community so deeply respected. It is such a tragedy that he’s not with us anymore.”

Lieberman’s funeral was held at Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut, where Lieberman was born. The service was attended by hundreds, including former vice president Al Gore, and senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal.

It was also attended by several Riverdale-area residents including Zirkind, who recited Psalm 1 and Psalm 23 in Hebrew and English.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.”

Other speakers included Lieberman’s stepson, Rabbi Ethan Tucker, as well as son Matthew and daughters Rebecca and Hani.

“Daddy, as I approached Riverdale on Wednesday evening, I expected you and mommy to be waiting in the lobby of your apartment building with a smile on your face helping me schlep the stroller and bags with the energy of a 65-year-old and not an 82-year-old,” Hani said.

“But Hashem had others plans. God had other plans. This is what God wanted, and although you were 82, we all feel you were ripped away from us at a much younger age.”

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