Communal Organizations Eye Lieberman

By Nacha Cattan

Published February 13, 2004, issue of February 13, 2004.
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Senator Joseph Lieberman may have given up the presidential ticket, but some of his Jewish admirers have a new mission for him: leader of a major Jewish organization.

It’s a mission that his closest friends and relatives says he’s highly unlikely to accept. “No way, no how,” said one close associate of Lieberman’s.

Leaders of several organizations are said to be exploring the senator’s availability, including the World Jewish Congress and United Jewish Communities. The executive vice president of the WJC, Elan Steinberg, said that officials within his organization told him they had reached out to Lieberman’s camp and reported back that Lieberman had in fact expressed interest in replacing Edgar Bronfman as the group’s president. The former whisky baron will retire from the World Jewish Congress sometime before 2006. Other WJC officials would not confirm having discussions with Lieberman about the post.

Rumors of a UJC candidacy appear to have been circulated mainly by people with no direct knowledge of or involvement in such a decision. The UJC’s current president and chief executive officer, Stephen Hoffman, who agreed to take the job only for a single three-year term, is leaving a post riddled with high turnover and arduous searches for successors.

The UJC presidency is a paid job, whereas the WJC presidency is a volunteer position.

Several people close to Lieberman said they thought it would be a bad idea for him to take either job and insisted the senator probably shares this view. “If he asked me I would advise him against making any changes,” Lieberman’s childhood rabbi, Joseph Ehrenkranz of Stamford, Conn., told the Forward.

Other Lieberman associates said they were not sure what the senator would do, but did not think he would let anything interfere with his job on Capitol Hill. “He’s very happy in the Senate,” said Lieberman’s mother Marcia. “He’s doing a good job and I’m proud of what he does there. But I really cannot speak for him.”

Ary Freilich, Lieberman’s brother-in-law, said: “I think Joe is a United States senator who takes his commitment to his position very seriously, and he will continue to be a United States senator.”

But the chairman of the WJC board of governors, Rabbi Israel Singer, told the Forward that Lieberman would not have to leave the Senate to head the organization. “We had a French senator, Michel Dreyfus-Schmidt, who was president of the European Jewish Congress,” Singer said. He declined to confirm or deny if Lieberman had been approached, but said he would approve of such a gesture.

Ehrenkranz, rabbi emeritus of Agudath Sholom, told the Forward that it would be inappropriate for Lieberman to head either organization while serving his constituents in Congress. “It would be a distraction from his job,” Ehrenkranz said.

In contrast to the WJC, the UJC committee charged with finding a successor to Hoffman is remaining mum, leaving Lieberman speculation in the realm of rumor. Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an affiliate of UJC, said the idea had been floated at the UJC General Assembly in Jerusalem in November, but not by anyone with decision-making power on the issue.

One UJC lay leader, Richard Wexler, tried to dispel the rumors. “It’s like a Purim spiel,” he said. “The guy only resigned his campaign for presidency three days ago.”






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