It’s not easy working for a Jewish vice-presidential candidate.
Early last week, Joseph Lieberman’s campaign scheduler was already scratching his head: How could he find a synagogue in the rural Midwest where the vice-presidential candidate could pray on Shabbat and still make it to Tipper Gore’s birthday party on Saturday night?
Young, non-Jewish Ryan Montoya found his answer with the help of some Democratic Jewish consultants and a small-town Wisconsin synagogue.
The campaign first contacted the major Jewish rabbinical organizations for synagogues in Wisconsin and Iowa – and close-by hotels – located along the Mississippi River route where Democratic candidates Al Gore and Lieberman campaigned over the weekend.
But the search wasn’t simple.
A synagogue in Clinton, Iowa, closed down 10 years ago. A combined Reform and Conservative shul in Dubuque, Iowa, was too far away, while a Reform temple in Davenport, Iowa, doesn’t hold Saturday morning services.
Then the campaign discovered Congregation Sons of Abraham in La Crosse, Wisc., where Gore and Lieberman campaigned last Friday.
Rabbi Saul Prombaum, who leads the 45-family Conservative shul, originally founded in 1905, was delighted to welcome the vice-presidential entourage.
“When you live in a small town, you’re very grateful for the opportunity to interact with the larger Jewish world,” said Prombaum.
His wife baked some kosher food for Lieberman, and additional provisions were brought in from Postville, Iowa, where the Lubavitch movement has a kosher slaughterer.
Prombaum was even more delighted when the service attracted 75 people, about double the normal number.
All of the attendees were screened outside the synagogue.
Lieberman attended the ser-vice with his wife, Hadassah; their 12-year-old daughter, Hana; his 33-year-old son, Matthew, and 31-year-old daughter, Rebecca.
When Prombaum asked the congregants for the names of sick relatives and friends, Lieberman offered three, including that of Sen. John McCain (R- Ariz.), who was recently diagnosed with a recurrence of skin cancer.
The Connecticut senator even gave an interpretation of the week’s Torah portion, Ekev, in which he argued that people kept Shabbat not just because they fear God, but for them-selves as well, said Prombaum.”It was a magic moment for us. We don’t have things like this,” the rabbi said.
The campaign now has a comprehensive list of synagogues across the United States for the estimated eight upcoming Shabbats during the campaign season when Lieberman will find himself in similar circumstances.
As for Tipper Gore’s birthday party?
According to sources, Lieberman, who flew to Iowa after Shabbat ended, was a half-hour late.