Washington’s stars came out on Thursday night to bid farewell to retiring Senator Joseph Lieberman, at an event hosted by Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.
It was a slate of guests that would make any Washington party organizer envious, including former vice president Dick Cheney, looking in good shape after a heart transplant, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
But the real show stopper was Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, who turned the otherwise polite set of greetings into a roast for his longtime friend Lieberman.
“I have a major announcement to make,” McCain opened, “I’m converting to Judaism.”
It turns out that in his many trips abroad with Lieberman, McCain picked up on some of the Jewish traditions and that out of respect to his colleague’s observant Jewish beliefs, McCain himself became somewhat observant. Now, as Lieberman readies to step down, it is McCain’s payback time.
“I had to put up all the years with the bullshit of religion, I might as well convert,” said McCain as Lieberman and the hundred other guests gathered at the ambassador’s residence burst out laughing. The Arizona Senator’s took issue with the Shabbat elevator, an elevator that stops on each and every floor, so that the observant Jew riding it will not have to push the button of the desired floor. McCain, who had to ride it with Lieberman on their Saturday work trips, just couldn’t stand the frequent stop.
And even worse — the salmon, a fish that has become the staple of any meal when hosts try to please their kosher observing guests. “Why in every f**king kosher meal do we have to have salmon?” McCain asked. He also complained about having to walk to vote with Lieberman on Saturdays and recalled a joint trip to Germany in which he woke up on the plane only to see Joe Lieberman praying wrapped in a talit, the Jewish prayer shawl. “I see this guy wrapped in a shawl,” he said, “I thought maybe I died.”
“I had to put up with this all these years,” McCain summed up his humorous rant, explaining why it would now be a natural move for him to simply convert to Judaism.
Lieberman did not miss a beat in responding to his Republican buddy’s speech. “Today we gained John McCain,” he said, turning to the Senator. “Your entry to the covenant was a lot less painful than mine.”
Ambassador Oren presented Lieberman with a bible as a farewell gift. “I’ve already read it,” Lieberman quipped. “But this is a signed copy,” Oren shot back.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.