Author’s note: This biographical essay is based on an interview with Mrs. Lieberman.
Hadassah Lieberman is the keynote speaker at the 75th annual Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Yom HaShoah Yizkor Remembrance Service taking place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11, at Temple Beth Shalom, 40-25 Fair Lawn Avenue, in Fair Lawn. The title of her address is “From Child of Survivors, to Immigrant, to Partner, to National Campaigns.” This program, the oldest such commemoration in North America, is sponsored by the Holocaust Memorial Committee of The Jewish Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
Lieberman’s first language was Yiddish. She was born in Czechoslovakia to Samuel and Ella Wieder Freilich. Her father, an attorney and a rabbi, had led an escape of 20 men from a march to Auschwitz. Her mother, Ella, survived the Nazi concentration camps at Dachau and Auschwitz. Having come to America as an infant, Hadassah always felt different. She was always adjusting. There was no real community to which she could relate. She was an outsider in the small community of Gardner, Massachusetts.
Lieberman was brought up in a very traditional and observant Jewish home. Although her younger brother was very Americanized, she retained her European roots. In her home her mother only served European dishes made from scratch. No store-bought comestibles, no American foods. This was the first chapter of Hadassah Lieberman’s life in America.
She first attended Stern College and then transferred to Boston University, where she majored in China studies and minored in theater. She received a master’s degree from Northeastern University in international relations. Lieberman was a research analyst at Lehman Brothers; a director of policy, planning and communications at Pfizer and Hoffman LaRoche; and senior program officer at the National Research Council. She worked on health issues, assisting nonprofit organizations, improving educational standards and promoting international understanding. She has served on several national nonprofit councils and boards. She continues to be vocal on many issues, which include improving women’s health, reducing hurdles faced by immigrants and the challenge of caring for aging parents.
Lieberman married a rabbi, but they later split up. She had been divorced for a year when a friend gave her name to Joseph Lieberman, who was running for Connecticut Attorney General in 1983. It took six months for him to call, but a year after meeting, they married. She went on to become the wife of a United States Senator from Connecticut, and a vice presidential candidate and spent 24 years in Washington, D.C.
Throughout her very public life she never experienced anti-Semitism; in fact, quite often on Shabbat in Washington, people would join her walking to shul with her husband as a sign of respect. Her parents were not reticent about discussing the Shoah, and she still marvels at how people could rebuild their lives after what they experienced. Lieberman is quite mindful of the Shoah being part of being Jewish. She tries to represent the positive, keep things simple. “I wish for a less complicated history on this unique mission/adventure. It is our obligation to carry on this miraculous story, to be strong, to survive and to contribute to the future. We have to speak for those who cannot speak and I thank Hashem for this miracle of survival.”
She is still astounded that the Nazis and their collaborators could have done what they did. She is more amazed that people who lived through it could have survived intact. Lieberman is at work on a book about her mother’s experiences during the Shoah.
By Wallace Greene
Dr. Wallace Greene has been a member of the Holocaust Memorial Committee for many years.