May 24, 2024
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May 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Who does not love hearing and sharing a great story? The story I am about to tell happened approximately 14 years ago, but its details are etched in my memory with such clarity that it feels as though it transpired only yesterday.

Let me start from the beginning. For the past 25 years, I’ve called Monsey home. Yet, for the better part of those years, my work has been centered in Stamford. As a result, my routine led me to commute between these two locations on almost a daily basis. Amidst the hustle and bustle of my professional life, Agudath Sholom, the local Orthodox shul in Stamford, became my peaceful spiritual sanctuary. Each day, especially during the winter, I would carve out a few minutes in the afternoon from my hectic office life to find solace and quiet reflection in the comforting embrace of the shul. There, I would join the familiar faces for the daily Mincha-Maariv minyan, as the day gently transitioned into night. For the most part, our gatherings consisted of the same small group of individuals, coming together for 30 minutes every afternoon. Afterwards, we would each leave shul to return to the rhythm of our respective lives.

Our group of individuals quickly morphed into a tight-knit community, as we delighted in sharing a story or a laugh before Mincha or after Maariv, fostering a familial atmosphere.

The circle of my weekday “Mincha-Maariv friends” included some commuters, like me, as well as some Stamford residents. One afternoon, some of the Stamford residents casually mentioned that Joe Lieberman was a member of Agudath Sholom and regularly frequented the shul’s Shabbat services. Yet, during the workweek, when his duties typically took him to Washington DC, he was rarely in Stamford. Accordingly, since he mainly visited the shul on Shabbat while my visits were confined to the workweek, our schedules kept us from ever meeting in person.

However, one December workday, as I, once again, stepped into the tranquil confines of Agudath Sholom for Mincha and Maariv, I couldn’t help but notice a new face among our close-knit group. Although he bore a striking resemblance to Senator Joe Lieberman, I hesitated to approach him, unwilling to be “that guy” who impulsively inquired if he was indeed the Joe Lieberman.

However, observing him closely, it was evident that if he truly was Joe Lieberman, he was making no effort to draw attention to himself. Quietly seated, he awaited the commencement of Mincha, exhibiting no airs or signs of his distinguished status as a sitting member of the U.S. Senate.

Following the conclusion of Mincha, Rabbi Cohen, the esteemed rabbi of Agudath Sholom, acknowledged that Senator Lieberman was observing a yahrzeit that night and, as a result, asked him to lead the Maariv service.

The Senator walked to the front of the shul and, without drawing any attention to himself, expertly led the service. Upon the completion of Maariv, many of the members approached him, extending the traditional yahrzeit greeting, “May the neshama have an aliyah,” as a token of our respect and solidarity. During this process, Joe exhibited only grace and patience beyond measure to everyone.

Finally, as I approached him and extended my hand in greeting, I was immediately struck by his warmth and openness. Despite our lack of prior acquaintance or any knowledge of my background, Joe bestowed upon me his undivided attention and hospitality. In his presence, I never felt hurried or insignificant; rather, I was embraced as a fellow congregant in the shul, and Joe was genuinely interested in engaging in conversation to cultivate a newfound friendship Even though he held the esteemed title of Senator while I was merely a private citizen, Senator Lieberman treated me as a friend and an equal. I was astounded by the Senator’s authenticity and caring demeanor.

In life, there are moments that pass us by, only to later reveal their profound significance. However, in this instance, as I conversed with Senator Lieberman, I was immediately struck by the amalgamation of his warmth, humility and kindness. It was as if all these virtues were intricately woven together, forming a tapestry of generosity and thoughtfulness. In that very moment, I recognized that I was in the presence of excellence. I was not merely conversing with Joe Lieberman, I was also learning from a remarkable man whose essence epitomized absolute greatness.

Throughout my life, I’ve had the privilege of dedicating a number of years to studying in yeshiva. A fundamental component of my yeshiva experience was the exploration of Mussar. But what exactly is Mussar? It can be described as a Jewish spiritual discipline that provides practical guidance on leading a purposeful and ethical life. Through the study and application of Mussar, individuals are empowered to cultivate traits such as humility, compassion and integrity, ultimately striving towards personal growth and spiritual fulfillment.

For me, conversing with Senator Lieberman and witnessing his demeanor in the shul among strangers felt like a Mussar lesson in and of itself. In reality, that evening marked the only time I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with the Senator in person. However, I consider myself truly blessed to have had this solitary encounter, as I perceive it as a zechut, a special merit, bestowed upon me.

In Kohelet (7:2), it is written, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.” This statement may initially appear surprising, given the typically superior fare and fun that can be found at a house of feasting compared to a house of mourning. However, the essence of this sentiment lies in the lasting impact each setting can have on individuals. In the somber atmosphere of mourning, when one hears of the genuine achievements of the departed, it has the potential to inspire introspection and a commitment to bettering oneself.

I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to have crossed paths with Joe Lieberman and witnessed firsthand his unwavering humility and modesty. However, I also recognize that, unlike Joe, I am not, and probably never will be, globally renowned. Consequently, I will almost certainly never have the opportunity to emulate his refined and authentic character on a world stage. Nevertheless, within the bounds of my own private life, I aspire to uphold his cherished ideals, treasuring their profound significance in my heart always. Additionally, I hope to faithfully impart his invaluable lessons to my children and grandchildren, ensuring that his wisdom transcends generations.

May his memory be an everlasting blessing.

Jonathan Rosenstock holds his roles as a husband, father, and grandfather as his most cherished achievements.  Alongside his professional credentials as both a CPA and an EMT, Jonathan is also a part-time freelance writer.  Together with his wonderful family, Jonathan has been a Monsey resident since 1999.

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