Four-term Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman talked politics and spirituality in Oklahoma City, Okla., taking the dais at the Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning to celebrate 13 years of full-time Chabad-Lubavitch activities in the state.
Lieberman delivered the keynote address at the Nov. 3 celebration, telling the crowd of 300 people about a personal relationship with Chabad dating back to before his first run for the U.S. Senate and how teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, influenced his own views of American public life.
“We’re not here by accident,” he related. “Each one of us has a spark of Divinity within us.”
Consequently, he said, each and every person has a unique responsibility to reveal goodness in the world. He pointed to Rabbi Ovadia and Nechoma Goldman, who founded the Oklahoma City Chabad center in 1997, as living examples of the self-sacrifice required to make the world a better place.
As a result of the connections formed at the center, said the senator, according to a Tulsa Today report, “this community is brighter and more tightly woven that it would otherwise be.”
Ovadia Goldman said that people responded to the message.
“People were very proud to hear an extremely successful United States senator being so open, comfortable and proud about who he is, what he stands for, and where he comes from,” said the rabbi, “especially in Oklahoma City, where Judaism is such a minority.”
The Goldmans, who have five children, moved to the city from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., after being appointed by Rabbi Yehuda Weg, director of Chabad of Oklahoma. For 11 years, the couple operated their Chabad House from their own home. Two years ago, real estate developer Richard Tanenbaum helped build the current center.
Goldman noted that the room where the dinner was held usually seats only 240 people. Organizers fit as many chairs as they could to accommodate the 300 who wanted to attend, including Lt. Gov. Jerry Askins.
“We’re a very small Jewish community, so a crowd of 300 people is quite an accomplishment,” said Goldman.
Richard and Glenna Tanenbaum, who met the Goldmans in 1997 after they moved from Houston, Texas, received the dinner’s Community Leadership Award.
“Rabbi Goldman met us wherever we were as Jews,” Richard Tanenbaum, who serves as C.E.O. of Gardner Tanenbaum Group, said. “We didn’t have to be that traditional, that observant or that learned. Rabbi Goldman teaches Jews how to be Jewish. It was very refreshing.”
At the dinner, the Tanenbaums announced plans to expand the center to accommodate a rotating staff of rabbinical students. The ultimate goal is to make it possible for young Jewish families to settle in the city and further expand Jewish life.
Other honorees at the event included Justin and Linda Gardner, who received the Lamplighters Award, and Edward Kaswan, who received the Kesser Shem Tov Award.
In a speech that brought some people to tears, Kaswan, a Holocaust survivor, thanked G-d for the chance to see his life come full circle. He recalled the horror of seeing Jewish community centers destroyed and Torah scrolls burned in his home country of Austria, and of the joy of helping bring the first Torah scroll to the state of Oklahoma.
“The dinner was monumental in the sense that you look back at what the rabbi and Nechoma came with and where they are now, and it’s incredible, the growth and the development that the activities of Chabad have had on our community,” Dr. Eli Reshef, an infertility specialist in Oklahoma City, said after the dinner. “We saw the rabbi and the community grow together, and how the Goldmans elevated it to such a level that is rarely seen, and by doing good deeds, not by preaching.”
Pointing to himself, the Israeli native said that the work of the Chabad center has been nothing short of amazing.
“Anybody that can show a secular kibbutznik the value of laying teffilin must be remarkable,” said Reshef.
His wife, Edie Roodman, who serves as executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, agreed.
“Really diverse members of the community supported the event, and that was exciting,” she said. “Everyone was impressed and felt that it was a warm and inviting evening. Everyone felt part of what was happening. We were all proud.”