Nomads with new
Lieberman majored in religion. “I might have been the first official religion major
at Reed,”he says. And then he set out for Israel, studying Hebrew calligraphy and
intending to earn a Ph.D. in Biblical studies. “I found myself linguistically un-prepared,” he
says. So he decided to study medicine instead, and went on to Johns Hopkins Medical School.
The first time he assisted during eye surgery, he decided he’d found his specialty. “When
I was in my third year,” he recalls, “I was up all night and we were in the operating
room, working in someone’s belly and it was a bloody mess and so intensely surgical.
I showered up and reported to the eye department. I walked in on a doctor doing a cataract
operation and he was listening to Scarlatti. It looked like Professor Reynolds’ calligraphy.
I decided no more of this bloody stuff.”
Out of medical school and living in San Francisco, Lieberman, who grew up in a religious
family that produced several Rabbis, became involved in Buddhist meditation. “It felt
very much like coming home,” he says. “There was so much confluence with Jewish
He went on to India, where he says he was amazed at how spiritual the practice of medicine
was. “Medical centers there are temples, temples of love and service,” says Lieberman.
He found what he was seeking.
In 1989, a serendipitous event occurred, which put Lieberman on the path to Tibet. His
Holiness, the Dalai Lama, living in exile in Dharmsala, India, expressed a desire to learn
about Judaism. Lieberman volunteered to put together what he calls a “dream team” of
people to give the Dalai Lama a crash course in Judaism. After a profound meeting, the Dalai
Lama commented that the suffering of the Jewish people and the suffering of the Tibetan people
made him feel a special closeness between the two groups.
In fact, says Lieberman, “The meeting became a love fest between the Jews and the Tibetans.” A
follow-up week-long meeting in India in 1990 was recounted in the best-selling book, The
Jew in the Lotus, by Rodger Kamenetz. For his part, Lieberman, recognizing the aching
resonance between Tibetan and Jewish experience, and how the Tibetan leader had been driven
into exile, vowed to help the Tibetan people with whatever skills he had to offer.