Last Goodbye

‘An angel among men’: Family, colleagues remember Lieberman at Stamford synagogue

All speakers at the funeral praised Lieberman’s unending decency, integrity and kindness

Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA via AP Images

Former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC on March 24, 2019.

STAMFORD, Conn. — On a sunny, brisk spring morning, hundreds of people arrived at Congregation Agudath Sholom in this New York City bedroom community to pay their respects to Sen. Joe Lieberman, who died on Wednesday at 82. Thirty minutes before the funeral was scheduled to begin, a line of well-wishers waiting to enter the building zigzagged through the synagogue’s parking lot, past Israeli and American flags that had been lowered to half-mast to honor the longtime Connecticut senator.

By the time everyone was seated, the cavernous sanctuary in the synagogue where Lieberman grew up — his grandparents had settled in Stamford after immigrating to America from Eastern Europe — was filled to standing-room-only capacity. “It’s like Yom Kippur here,” one attendee whispered to a friend. 

Many in the room were Jewish, but not all; rabbis who spoke, as well as Lieberman’s children, made sure to translate the Hebrew phrases they used in their eulogies. Each speaker praised Lieberman’s fundamental decency and integrity, the warmth he showed to every person he encountered. When Rabbi Daniel Cohen, the senior rabbi at Agudath Sholom, asked who in the room could count Lieberman as a friend, nearly every hand went up. 

“No matter how much we say about Senator Joseph Lieberman, it will never be enough to capture the fact that he was an angel among men,” Cohen said. “His soul is like a flame this morning, and we are feeling his light. I pray that when we rise in a number of minutes, we could rise not only in body but in spirit.”

The long list of speakers who offered heartfelt remembrances of the senator and vice presidential candidate reflected Lieberman’s lifelong commitment to both his faith and public service. 

Where his children quoted Jewish teachings and compared their father to Yosef HaTzadik, Joseph the Righteous in the Torah, his former running mate, Al Gore, quoted the Declaration of Independence and a series of letters between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as guides for maintaining civility during times of political conflict. Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), who served alongside Lieberman in the Senate for two decades, joked that he was Lieberman’s sShabbos goy and Lieberman was his altar boy. 

Three senators, a governor and a former vice president painted a portrait of a man guided by a strong moral compass and a desire to serve the people of Connecticut. 

Sly humor, like the Borscht Belt tradition in which Lieberman enjoyed taking part, threaded through each speech. (Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont earned a laugh for pointing out that his friendship with Lieberman “started on an inauspicious note.” Lieberman defeated him in a 2006 Senate race as an Independent after Lamont defeated him in the Democratic primary.) Those honoring Lieberman praised his fierce political independence as a relic of a nearly bygone era, and called for this generation of public servants to heed his lessons.

“I’ve been asked what I’ve learned from Joe Lieberman. What I’ve learned was to take every idea on its merits, to not discount an idea because it comes from a political adversary, to not adopt an idea because it comes from a political friend. Joe Lieberman decided whether something was good or bad for the country or for the state regardless of its political origin or impact,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who took over Lieberman’s seat when he retired, said. Connecticut’s other Democratic senator, Richard Blumenthal, also spoke. 

Then Lieberman’s three children and his stepson offered eulogies, interspersing personal stories of their father with teachings from the Talmud. 

“His gleaming countenance was not a well-executed politeness. It reflected the inner joy he truly felt when he encountered each person. As my sister said, there was no person, no matter their station, their seniority, their origin, their ideology, who was not capable of evoking this response from him,” said Rabbi Ethan Tucker, Lieberman’s stepson and the president of Hadar, an educational institution in New York City. 

Above all, the words offered by each speaker reflected a man who was committed to his family over everything else. Dodd spoke about the joy of dancing with Lieberman at his daughter’s wedding. Hani Lowenstein, his daughter, expressed gratitude that Lieberman could be in Jerusalem last month for her son’s bar mitzvah. Her father told her it had been one of the best Shabbats of his life. 

Lieberman’s children spoke of the great love he shared with his wife, Hadassah Lieberman. His son Matt read a text Lieberman had meant to send to Hadassah after returning to his hotel room at the end of a busy day at the Munich Security Forum last month, but which he accidentally sent to the entire family’s WhatsApp group instead. “Love you madly,” he wrote to his wife of 41 years. They celebrated their anniversary last week. 

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