Joe Biden, Mensch

June 25, 2020

Joe Biden’s campaign is sharing personal stories about Biden — this one was shared originally in September 2019. It’s a way to get to know him, and to show his character (or lack of it).

This one, you should read. It’s the Joe Biden I met first in 1974, and the Biden I know him to be. But I hadn’t heard this story before.

I Know Joe Biden: Rabbi Michael Beals

The story I’m about to share with you about Joe Biden is special — in fact, I’m fairly certain I’m the only living person left who actually witnessed it firsthand.

It was about 16 years ago, and I was a young rabbi, brand-new to Delaware, on my way to lead a shiva minyan — a worship service following a death of a Jewish person. I was from California. Back then, I didn’t know Claymont, Delaware from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Rabbi Michael Beals and Vice President Joe Biden

A quick bit of background: When someone passes away in the Jewish faith, we observe seven days of mourning, called shiva. We gather a group of ten Jewish adults together — a minyan — to say the Mourners’ Kaddish. It usually happens in a person’s home — somewhere intimate.

In this case, the deceased individual — her name was Mrs. Greenhouse, of blessed memory — had not been a person of means. She had lived in rent-controlled senior housing in a tall high-rise building off of Namaans Road. Her apartment had been too small to fit everyone into, so we conducted our worship service in the building’s communal laundry room, in the basement of the high-rise.

We assembled the ten elders together, and it was in this most humble of places that I began to lead the kaddish. Toward the end of the service, a door at the back of the laundry room opened, and who walks in but Senator Joe Biden, his head lowered, all by himself.

I nearly dropped my prayer book in shock.

Senator Biden stood quietly in the back of the room for the duration of the service.

At the close of the kaddish, I walked over to him and asked the same question that must have been on everyone else’s mind: “Senator Biden — what are you doing here?”

And he said to me: “Listen, back in 1972, when I first ran for Senate, Mrs. Greenhouse gave $18 to my first campaign. Because that’s what she could afford. And every six years, when I’d run for reelection, she’d give another $18. She did it her whole life. I’m here to show my respect and gratitude.”

Now, the number 18 is significant in the Jewish faith — its numbers spell out the Hebrew word chai, as in “to life, to life, l’chayim!” But it’s also a humble amount. Joe Biden knew that. And he respected that.

There were no news outlets at our service that day — no Jewish reporters or important dignitaries. Just a few elderly mourners in a basement laundry room.

Joe Biden didn’t come to that service for political gain. He came to that service because he has character. He came to that service because he’s a mensch.

And if we need anything right now when it comes to the leadership of our country — we need a mensch.

I know this is such a simple, small story. But I tell it to as many people as will listen to me.

Because I think that, in their heart of hearts, when people are trying to think about the decision they’ll make next year — this is the kind of story that matters.

Joe Biden is a mensch. We need a mensch.

Thanks for reading.

– Rabbi Michael Beals of Delaware

This article was first published by the Biden campaign on Medium, I think. This is the earliest version I’ve found. It’s been excerpted on Twitter, for example by Stanley Krute, and probably on other platforms, too.

I know of no similar story about Donald Trump. Do you?


Biden/Ryan Klash in Kentucky: Transcript

October 11, 2012

I didn’t see the whole debate, but from what I saw, it was different this week.  Obama’s problem was that he didn’t expect to have to nail Jello to a tree, and didn’t; tonight, Biden nailed the Jello, made it stick on the tree, and made it bleed.

Does the full transcript show that?  ABC already has a transcript upNPR has one, too.

And The New York Times, of course. Newspaper of record.

Here’s a twist:  ThinkProgress adds fact checking to the transcript.

What THEY said to expect:


Biden vs. Ryan, on a homeless guy

September 1, 2012

Oh, so THAT’s how you get a Tweet to look like a Tweet on a blog!

This isn’t real Biden vs. Ryan, though from my experience with Biden his side is pretty clear; and from what the GOP folk said from Tampa, Ryan’s side it pretty clear, too:


Biden, aye!

August 23, 2008

Joe Biden it is. I’ve known Biden and watched him since my first turn staffing the Senate, 34 years ago. Day in and day out, he’s a good man. More, he will make a great vice president.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq (September 11, 2007) - Wikimedia photo

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq (September 11, 2007) - Wikimedia photo

One of the things that has always distinguished Biden to me is his dedication to his family. Shortly after he was elected to the Senate, his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car-train accident, which also injured is two sons, Beau and Hunt. Biden informed Senate leaders he would not leave his children at such a time, and that he’d resign his election. Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and several others worked to persuade Biden to find some way to serve. By the time I joined Mansfield’s office in 1974, Mansfield was glad to have persuaded Biden, since his expertise and cool judgment were needed in the latter days of the Watergate Constitutional crises.

Bill Bradley tells the story, touchingly, in his book Time Present, Time Past, about how Arkansas Sen. John L. McClellan told Biden the best thing he could do would be to serve in the Senate and work hard — McClellan having lost his wife to spinal meningitis while driving back to Arkansas on business, and then one son to the same disease (in Africa, a few years later), and two more sons in an auto crash and an airplane crash.

Biden resolved the problem by commuting every day, from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, D.C. Not moving to the capital kept Biden grounded, in a way most senators cannot be.

Beau Briden today is Delaware’s attorney general, and a Captain in the National Guard, deploying to Iraq in October 2008. Hunt is an attorney working in Washington, D.C. Biden remarried in 1977. He and his wife, Jill, have a daughter, Ashley.

Ear worm: For several years while I staffed the Senate, Biden led off the roll call votes. I cannot hear his name without hearing in my head the Clerk of the Senate calling the roll for votes, “Sen. Biden,” and when Biden offered his assent the clerk would quickly intone, “Biden, ‘aye.'” When my phone beeped and I saw it was Biden, I still heard the Clerk’s voice, “Biden, aye.”

Great pick on Obama’s part.

You should check out:


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