How Joe Lieberman z’l Helped Catapult Jew in the City To The Next Level

In 2012, only a few years after I started making YouTube videos on a channel called Jew in the City, before we were very known or had many markers of success, something almost miraculous happened. I found myself and my trusted director of photography, Elie Gabor, schlepping film equipment into the bowels of Congress. (Much to my surprise, these were not very accessible hallways and elevators.)

We had been given the green light to film a sitting U.S. Senator and former Vice Presidential candidate, by the name of Joe Lieberman. I was going to interview him and he was also going to be appearing in a scripted video I had written called “Orthodox Jewish All Stars.” A few months earlier, I had had an idea. Many people believed that Orthodox women aren’t allowed to work and that Orthodox men are all rabbis or diamond dealers. What if we made a video that showed not only are these people allowed to work, they can be at the tops of their fields in prestigious companies and organizations, all while maintaining a life of shabbos and kashrus observance?

I started to make a list of the most successful Orthodox Jews out there, to figure out who should be in this video. Of course, I had no idea how I’d actually convince any of these people to do it. Joe Lieberman, who was the highest ranking Orthodox Jewish politician in U.S. history, was at the top of the list. But how to get to him?

Well, a little after my brainstorming session, I found out that I was being honored as a Top Ten Jewish Influencer by National Jewish Outreach Project (incidentally, no one was saying the word “influencer” back in 2012, so NJOP was really ahead of its time!) and wouldn’t you know, the keynote speaker at this event was going to be Senator Lieberman.

I had my plan in place. I’d get there early, meet Joe in the cocktail hour, wow him, and by the end of the evening, he’d agree to be in my video. Well, I left for the event late, got lost and showed up after the cocktail hour. Senator Lieberman was speaking by the time I arrived and he noted, from the stage, “after this I’m going home.” I turned to my husband and asked “after this speech or after this event?” My husband said, “see if he sits down.”

So I watched Senator Lieberman walk off the stage, past his table, to the door, so I popped out of my seat and started running to the door closest to me. I ran to intercept Joe as he walked to the elevator, but a lady intercepted my interception. I got to him as the elevator doors were closing and gave him my elevator pitch. He told me, “sure I’ll be in your video, just call my office.”

Elated, I ran back to my table to tell my husband, “We got Senator Lieberman!!” “No you didn’t,” he said, with a measure of reality in his voice, “he tells that to every person who accosts him at events.”

Well, the next day I dug up the number to his office and was told to submit a proposal for his consideration. A couple weeks later, we got an answer. We got Senator Lieberman! Once I had a sitting U.S. Senator in our video, the rest of the All Stars fell into place and quite frankly, the wins and successes of Jew in the City only grew from there.

When we got to Lieberman’s office, we were told that we could rearrange his furniture and we did. We moved his desk in the opposite direction to get the view of all that was in the office, as opposed to just a corner. Ever the jokester, when the senator walked into the office, he quipped, “you didn’t like my desk where it was?”

I was sitting in his chair when he walked in, so our director of photography could light the scene. The senator told me I looked good there and offered to help with my run should I decide to give politics a try. I told him I’d be sticking to Jewish nonprofit work. After our interview, I was in touch with the senator from time to time over years and interviewed him about his second book With Liberty And Justice: The Fifty Day Journey From Egypt to Sinai.”

At the beginning, a secretary would mediate our messages, but in the last few years, I wrote to Joe directly. We were in touch last about a year ago because I had met Meghan McCain and I thanked her for her solidarity with the Jewish community. She told me that growing up with Joe Lieberman and his family is what inspired her lifelong support of Jews at large and her appreciation of Orthodox Jewish traditions and rituals. I thanked Joe for being such a kiddush Hashem and got to update him on the Hollywood Bureau we had launched the previous year, explaining that no one had ever organized like this for Jews in Hollywood before, so we were stepping up. His final words to me were, “Keep up all your good and important work. Talk about Kiddush Hashem.” I was crushed to learn of Joe’s passing yesterday at 82 years old.

Thank you Senator Lieberman for all you did in serving our country and being a role model to Jews and non-Jews everywhere and for taking 30 minutes out of your busy schedule in 2012 to help a group that no one had ever heard of get a chance to make a bigger impact than we could have without you. It is a scary time for Jews in the world today and while your sudden and tragic death will be felt by your loved ones down here for years to come, we need you to be melitz yosher for us in shamayim (to advocate for the Jewish people in the Heavenly Court). But you knew your way around courts and spent a lifetime in advocacy, so I have no doubt that we’ll be in good hands.

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  • Avatar photo john bracher says on March 29, 2024

    Rest in Peace, Senator Liberman. I am a Republican Christian, but always liked you and your moderate point of view. You will be missed. Sincerely – JAB

  • Avatar photo Nava Taff says on April 7, 2024

    The world, “ we… have lost a gentle giant with a heart of gold, a champion for the Jewish people and the oppressed of all walks of life. You have shown us what we could accomplish together is we only tried. Thank you for setting a righteous and good example of how we should treat others. Do onto others as you would do for yourself”! May you continue be a guiding light and a beacon of hope. 💔


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