September 20, 2019

The Senator and the Author

Two giants of the American Jewish community, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and author Herman Wouk, got together last month in Washington, D.C., to discuss their new books and other topics in front of a gathering of more than 200 people.

Wouk, who has written such works as “The Winds of War,” “Marjorie Morningstar” and “This Is My God,” said he wrote his new book for young Jewish adults who are asking themselves who they are and for new parents who look at their children and wonder who they are going to be.

He said the meat of the book, “A Will to Live On: This Is Our Heritage,” is a review of the 3,000-year history of the Jewish community, the heritage that he believes is threatened and in great peril. Lieberman asked why Wouk, in his book, was more optimistic about Israel’s future than he was about Diaspora Jewry. Wouk said that while he was excited by the growth of Kesher Israel, Orthodoxy was still only 10 percent of the American Jewish community.

“We must have the heritage,” said Wouk, apparently referring to the other 90 percent of American Jews, many without a strong Jewish education. “If we don’t have it, the melting pot goes to work not by being threatening, but like a glass of hot tea in which the sugar gradually dissolves without even being aware that it’s happening.”

On the other hand, Wouk said that even though Israel also has a minority of Orthodox Jews, it does not matter because, as one secular Jew said to him, “I’m here, I’m home, I’m a Jew, I speak Hebrew, I’m 100 percent Jewish.”

While Wouk noted that the will to live on is a plain fact of Jewish character, he said he is worried about the depth and strength of the American Jewish community, especially now that Israel is solid and stable.”In the second half of the 20th century, what the American Jewish community did [to support Israel] was one of the great feats of any community ever, to pour energy in to make something happen across the seas,” he said.

Wouk praised Lieberman’s book, “In Praise of Public Life,” as a work that would inspire young people to go into politics.

Lieberman did not talk much about that book, but rather discussed some of the themes Wouk wrote about, as well as his recent trip to Israel.Lieberman agreed with Wouk that education is a key component of Jewish survival.

“The Talmud says that in the world to come we are asked three questions: Did you negotiate in good faith, did you try to raise a family and do you have a set time for Torah learning?” he said. He noted it does not mention, for instance, keeping kosher or davening three times a day.

“They were delving to the bare rock of Jewish survival, right conduct, children and learning, and that’s what Herman appeals to us to do,” he said. “Maybe we cannot daven together [because] there are different ways we draw the mechitzah, but we can all learn together.”

As for the Middle East, Lieberman believes Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has a very hardheaded vision, not an idealistic or romantic vision, but reflects the majority of Israeli opinion which wants peace with security.

Lieberman sees the political situation in Israel as similar to the current predicament of the United States, which has an electorate that is primarily moderate but a Congress polarized by extremes.It may be easier for Barak to win a referendum [on a peace treaty] than to hold the government together, he said, because the Knesset is also dominated by extremists on both sides.

After meeting with Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese and Egyptians on his recent mideast trip, Lieberman said he sees a yearning for peace in all quarters but doesn’t see a sincere commitment to peace from some of Israel’s partners.

Lieberman also said that all sides he met with told him that they trusted President Clinton and believe he understands the needs of their people. Lieberman said he was not sure whether that was a good sign.