Jewish Paparazzi: Rebecca Lieberman’s Public and Jewish Journey

Jewish Paparazzi: Rebecca Lieberman’s Public and Jewish Journey

With the press abuzz about the royal wedding of Chelsea Clinton last weekend, JInsider began to reflect on the current state of Jewish “royalty.” Who are our own rich and famous Jews, the ones who make an impact?

Top on our aristocratic list is Rebecca Lieberman, daughter of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Politics aside, Sen. Lieberman has been one of the most powerful Jews in government over the last few decades. Rebecca’s husband, Jacob Wisse, also comes with paparazzi status, thanks to a celeb mom, Ruth Wisse, who is a Harvard professor, prolific writer and vocal supporter of Israel. Jacob is a professor of art history at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women and also director of the Yeshiva University Museum. As a result, Rebecca and Jacob’s highly publicized 2006 marriage was hailed as a union of leading families in American Jewish life and letters. We spoke with Rebecca about her life in the public eye and Senator Joe’s influence on her Jewish journey.

Public Scrutiny

Proud as I am of my dad, the good news is that people generally don’t think the Lieberman they are interacting with is “that” Lieberman, so scrutiny feels minimal these days. Growing up in a place with fewer Liebermans, I always had a sense of representing the family, which probably provided a good check on potential teenage nuttiness. In college I was happily anonymous until sophomore year when my dad won his Senate seat in an upset victory that drew national attention. With the vice-presidential nomination in 2000, all bets were off. I campaigned for Gore-Lieberman fulltime. It was an incredible privilege and enormously fun, but I learned some hard lessons early on: don’t assume a reporter will treat you kindly even if they are acting friendly; most personal things should be kept personal; remember to answer the question and then shut your mouth. This saves lots of embarrassment in the press and also isn’t bad advice for dating, job interviews and in general.

A downside of being “the child-of?” If your parent is in government, people think you discuss affairs of state on a daily basis. The reality is, other than during campaigns I’ve worked on, my father and I have always been more likely to talk about personal than political things. He gets enough shop talk outside the family.

Personal Journey

For nearly five years now I’ve had the opportunity to work with the NADAV Foundation — its founder Leonid Nevzlin, and director Irina Nevzlin Kogan — to advance the field of Jewish peoplehood. The foundation aims to strengthen collective Jewish identity through programs and institutions that encourage individual Jews to connect in a substantive way with the broader, global Jewish experience across boundaries of geography, culture and practice. Our goals apply as much to Jews in Tel Aviv and Paris, as to those in Kiev and Kentucky. Through NADAV and KolDor I’ve grappled with Jewish peoplehood — person-to-person and as an idea — and connected to my people and Jewish life in a way I hadn’t before imagined.

I also met my husband through my work with NADAV, which was a great and unanticipated outcome! Marriage and motherhood have made Jewish practice a larger part of my life than it had been since childhood. Often I feel myself reaching back to my Baba — Marcia Lieberman, my father’s mother — who showed me what a Jewish woman, mother and wife can and should do and be.

Senator Joe’s Influence

I think about the seemingly undivided attention I received from my dad as a young girl and how much his pride and praise have always meant to me. I think about my father’s professional life, which he approaches with an ethic of service, great drive and a remarkable ability to enjoy people and experiences. I wonder at his capacity to appreciate the mundane and the miraculous in his personal life and to share those feelings with others. I realize that knowing my dad helped me to recognize a good man. Happily I married a great one, and now get to consider how to follow the model my dad set as a parent.

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