Senator Lieberman Speaks At Brooklyn Book Festival


Upon arriving, Senator Joe Lieberman greets Borough President Marty Markowitz and those eagerly awaiting entrance to the forum. Photo by Francesca Norsen Tate.


by Francesca Norsen Tate

Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut acknowledges that, for many people, including him, the hardest part of starting Shabbat is turning off his Blackberry device.

Sen. Lieberman is co-author (with David Klinghoffer) of The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath, which was published in August by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik moderated the conversation, titled “Recharging through Spirituality,” with Sen. Lieberman and Rev. A.R. Bernard, as part of Sunday’s Brooklyn Book Festival.

Rabbi Potasnik opened remarks with a true-to-style vignette about giving his extra ticket to an elderly Catholic woman trying to get into an event at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. After learning he is a rabbi, the woman exclaimed, “Only in New York, for a Catholic to get into St. Patrick’s Cathedral do you need a rabbi to give you a ticket!” Rabbi Potasnik said, “I think the message here once again is: We all have our respective denominations; but ultimately we need one another, to hold the doors open as widely as possible so that we can all of us can stand next to each other.”

After giving a bio of Senator Lieberman, Rabbi Potasnik told him, “What makes many of us proud is that you don’t have to camouflage your identity in order to excel as a United States Senator.”

Sen. Lieberman said, “In a limited sense, this book is my attempt to answer the question people have asked me over the years, ‘Why do you observe the Sabbath?’ What do you do on the Sabbath?’ That last question helps you to understand that people who know I’m Sabbath-observant know more about what I don’t do — which is, I don’t work unless there’s an emergency — rather than what I do, and what observant Jews do.

“As I think about the various parts of my life to be thankful for — and I have a lot to be thankful for — one is that my parents gave me the gift of Sabbath, which is a gift that really goes all the way back to Mt. Sinai, to the commandments that Moses passed onto the generations. To me, though, it was started as a commandment, as more of life has gone on, I have experienced it as a gift.” He quoted Ahad Ha’am, the Zionist thinker and writer also known as Asher Zvi Ginsberg (1856-1927), “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Sen. Lieberman said, “And my own version of that is, when people say to me, ‘How can you be a United States Senator and observe the Sabbath?’ I say, ‘I don’t know how I can be a United States Senator and NOT observe the Sabbath one day a week!’ And that’s the basic point of the book which is, and that’s why I write this — not just for Jews — really as much for people who are not Jewish — to invite the reader to be my guest, to go through a Sabbath as a traditional Jewish practice. At the end of each chapter I have a section called ‘Simple Beginnings’, in which I suggest to people some ways in which they can begin to bring Sabbath into their lives regardless of their religion.

“The point here is that, this is an institution that is thousands of years old. But I don’t think that it’s ever been more relevant or important as it is today, because we’re all so busy. We all have our cell phones, our Blackberrys, our iPads. We never leave work because they’re always with us. I say in my book that the hardest part of getting ready to do Sabbath is, when the sun sets on Friday, is turning my Blackberry off. But once I do, once my cell phone is off, I feel better. It gives me time to be with my family, in a religious sense to be with God, to be within myself, to have the time to enjoy the day.”

He pointed out that often people are misinformed about Sabbath, thinking it to be a time of denial; “whereas, it’s a time to celebrate.”

Rev. A.R. Richard broached the question of times when an ethical — even moral — imperative arises to break the Sabbath. “How do you weigh those decisions?”

Sen. Lieberman responded, “From the beginning there were exceptions made, particularly when life was involved. The most obvious is: If on the Sabbath, someone is sick, and you’re in a position to help them get better, or take them for help — or if you’re a doctor — you must.

“Normally, you’re not supposed to answer your Blackberrys on the Sabbath. As I understand the commandment — if you’re a doctor, you aren’t only permitted to — you’re required to. And if told the patient needs hospitalization, you’re required to do what most people are not permitted to — get in your car and drive to the hospital to be with your patient. In any conflict, God-given life is always more important,” he said.

The moral imperative is more ambivalent for people in government, Sen. Lieberman explained; some [rabbinic] rulings were handed down which did not clarify matters. As a Senator, there are times when he cannot miss a vote being held on the Sabbath. “If I’m not there, then the people of Connecticut lose 50 percent of their representation in the Senate, and that’s irresponsible,” he said.

The forum also addressed the feasibility of being as religious as one’s grandparents or forebears.

* * *

Plymouth Church Opens Underground Thrift Shop

As it sells designer clothing, Plymouth Church’s Underground Thrift Shop will also support efforts to end slavery and human trafficking around the world.

The Grand Opening for Plymouth Church’s new The Underground Thrift Store-Upstairs at Plymouth Church takes place this Sunday, September 25, noon to 4 p.m. The Underground Thrift Store-Upstairs, in newly-renovated loft space, is at 65 Hicks St., adjacent to the church house entrance.

Shoppers at the Grand Opening will find apparel by Prada, Oscar de la Renta, Rick Owens, Chloé, Balenciaga, Donna Karan, Coach, Cynthia Rowley, Diane von Furstenberg, Ella Moss, Olga Kapustina, and Rebecca Taylor for women, Paul Stuart, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, among other designers, for adults and kids. A sneak preview sale of the store in late July brought in over 100 customers and sold nearly $1,000 worth of goods in four hours.

The Underground Thrift Store is a project of the congregation of Plymouth Church. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to organizations fighting modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Founded in 1847, Plymouth Church’s first minister was well-known abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, brother of the anti-slavery novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe; she was best known for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Under Beecher’s influence, Plymouth Church held deep philosophical connections with the Underground Railroad — the secretive network of people who helped slaves escape to the North and Canada. Documentary evidence lends support to the belief that Plymouth was also a site of active participation, known to some as Brooklyn’s “Grand Central Depot.”

While slavery is no longer a government-sanctioned “Peculiar Institution” in the United States, it continues to exist as a vicious social ill — both in America and other parts of the world. Plymouth Church will reconnect with its historic anti-slavery mission by donating 25% of the store’s net profits to organizations fighting modern-day slavery and human trafficking. “Plymouth is proud of its anti-slavery heritage,” notes the church’s Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. David C. Fisher, “and is committed to doing what we can to stop it in our time.”

Project chair Jeannette King says, “The Underground Thrift Store is a lovely little shop, and you never know what you’ll find — so you have to come each week!”

The Underground Thrift Store, Upstairs at Plymouth Church will be open Sundays, noon to 4pm. Donations are also accepted at 75 Hicks Street, and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

 * * *

Oktoberfest Tradition Continues at Zion Church

Celebrate German culture and cuisine at a longstanding Brooklyn Heights tradition — the Oktoberfest. Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church has for many years hosted Oktoberfest — with a hearty meal of bratwurst, potato salad and cabbage as its centerpiece. This year’s Oktoberfest falls on the first day of October, with doors opening at 3:30 p.m. Dinner starts at 4 p.m. and live music, dancing, kids’ activities and a charity raffle take place throughout the event, running until 8 p.m.

There is free general admission. Dinner prices are $18 for adults and $15 for students/senior citizens and $10 for children ages 12-under, when reserved in advance (by Sept. 27). Dinner prices at the door are: $23 for adults; $18 for students/seniors and $12 for children. Oktoberfest takes place rain or shine. Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church is at 125 Henry Street, Brooklyn Heights.


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