It was an innocuous interview about a subject I no longer remember. A dozen years ago, I made arrangements to meet Joe Lieberman in a Manhattan office building where he had other business. The Connecticut senator, who announced this week he won’t seek re-election for a fifth term, would be able to spare 15 or 20 minutes between appointments for a taped conversation to be broadcast on the television network where I was then employed.
I arrived at the location with my cameraman, who had barely started to unload his equipment when Senator Lieberman walked into the room. Knowing that it would take a minimum of 15 minutes to set up the lights and camera, I had to play for time… and what better game than Jewish geography?
“You know, Senator”, I began, “I think we know some people in common. My friend Mindy is principal of a day school in New Haven, where you live”. “Ezra Academy?”, he replied. “Of course I know it… and I know who she is too!”
We went down the list of who among his friends and relatives attended or supported the school, and spoke of other acquaintances in the area.
The videographer was barely halfway through his process, and paying little attention to our banter as he tested camera angles and audio levels. I started to shvitz… just a little… and the lights weren’t even on yet.
“You’re not originally from New Haven, though, are you?”, I ventured. “Oh, no”, Lieberman said, “I’m a Stamford boy, born and bred. My mom still lives there”.
“Really? Do you know the Goldsteins?”, I asked. “The Goldsteins? With those two wonderful disabled sons? Sure I do. How do you know them?” “Went to Camp Ramah with the older boy, Howie”, I answered.
And so my filibuster went for another ten minutes until finally, thankfully, we were ready to roll tape. The interview went well, and we bid each other a fond farewell after taking a typical politician-posed photo together.
As we packed up the equipment, the cameraman said, “So, how do you know him?” “What do you mean?”, I asked, confused at the question. “Obviously, you guys go way back; I was eavesdropping a little as I set up”.
“Actually, no”, I said. “Never met him before”. The cameraman looked at me, incredulous. “What are you talking about? You were like old buddies, talking about all your friends and relatives!”
I mumbled something about “Coincidence, I guess”, as my colleague continued to express his astonishment at the many links between Lieberman and myself.
I had no idea how to explain to a non-Jew the concept that we Hebrews are all connected somehow in one grand, global mishpacha… and that a member of Congress can be just another Member of the Tribe.
Steve North is a longtime broadcast journalist, currently with CBS News