Book Review – Hadassah An American Story

Hadassah- An American Story by Hadassah Lieberman

“This book is Hadassah’s extraordinary life story. It goes from her birth in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to parents who survived the Nazi Holocaust; to her childhood far away from Europe as the daughter of a rabbi in a small New England city…to her emergence in her own right during our 2000 vice presidential campaign.” Senator Joseph Lieberman introduces his wife’s story; the rest of the book chronicles her journey in her own words.

Her journey begins with her mother’s diary. “Ella Wieder Freilich was a beautiful woman who radiated confidence and remarkable poise.” This beautiful woman recalls the horrors of Auschwitz- the view through the barred windows of the train, revealing “trucks on which people are stacked and carried,” the sorting at the camp, the shaved heads. “My mother was one of the fortunate ones: she lived. Yet like all other survivors, she carried the weight of what she had experienced for the rest of her life. It is part of me, too, embedded in my DNA. Now it is my turn…to carry this weight.” Her remarkable parents taught Hadassah and her brother “to see ourselves as important and to believe that anything was possible in our lives if we worked hard for it, consistently and without self-doubt.”

Hadassah’s parents settled in Gardner, Massachusetts and enrolled her in school- she entered her kindergarten classroom as a Yiddish speaking student and emerged from that classroom determined to speak only English like her classmates. From grade school to high school to college- she received her degree from Boston University and met Gordon Tucker at Shabbat services at Harvard. A marriage, move to Manhattan, and job followed. With much introspection and honesty, Hadassah Lieberman recalls the birth of her son and the failure of that marriage, the fortuitous introduction, via a close friend, to Joe Lieberman, and ultimately the emergence of the woman we saw on the campaign trail in 2000.

“Living as though we can make a difference is important- because we can. Small actions eventually add up to big changes in whatever the cause is.” Hadassah entered the spotlight of national politics, first as a senator’s wife and then as the wife of the vice-presidential nominee, with a keen awareness of her immigrant background and with a strong commitment to her Jewish faith. “Joe and I understood that we were not a typical Senate couple. He was the only person in the history of the Senate to observe Shabbat…the private went hand in hand with the public.” Those private moments went on public display when Hadassah received a call from the Clinton White House. “Would I join the American delegation to the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz?” Hadassah, like her mother, kept a diary of her trip- from her seat on the Delta flight to arrival at the camps themselves- “another world, another place.” We walk through the camps with her and arrive at the crematoria, where she came “unequipped to the planet of death, of torture, of ‘endless nights.’”

I need to catch my breath at this point in my review and turn to the beautiful photographs in the middle of the book, of her parents, her four precious children, her life as a senator’s wife posing with national figures. Hadassah Lieberman radiates hope and charm in these photos; she demonstrates empathy for the immigrant and less fortunate in her public and private work; she treasures the fortitude of her parents and their bravery and honesty during their American journey. I have a picture hanging in my hallway of my great-grandmother, Celia Aronson. Taken sometime in the late 1800’s, possibly from a studio in Russia, the sepia-colored photo shows a stern woman sitting in a large, carved, wooden chair, hand confidently resting on the arm of the chair, eyes staring straight into the camera, hair parted in the middle pulled back into a severe bun. Those eyes, however, reflect the exact shape and tone of my father’s eyes and, I say modestly, my eyes. They radiate self-assurance, self-awareness, and kindness. They look out at me as I go about my day; they shine at my grandson as I introduce him to his great-great-great grandmother. 

Hadassah Lieberman’s story is one of valuing and respecting the past, investing in the present through public duty to her country, and nurturing the future through her children and grandchildren. The final photograph in the series shows a smiling family of children and grandchildren, celebrating Passover in Israel, sandwiched (no Passover pun intended!) between the glowing faces of grandparents Hadassah and Joe Lieberman. I was inspired reading her story; may she continue in good health to further the legacy of her beloved parents.

Randy Rubinstein lives in Sharon, Massachusetts