Discovering and Embracing Your Jewish Roots

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr comments on Virginia Senator George Allen's recent discovery of his Jewish heritage.

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DANIEL SCHORR: Seems as though I have another late-blooming fellow Jew in public life.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Senator George Allen, running for reelection and possibly beyond, has belatedly acknowledged that he recently learned from his mother that her parents are Jewish. There have been others who late in life also confirmed their Jewish heritage: retired general and one-time presidential contender Wesley Clark, Senator John Kerry, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. And according to the newspaper Jewish Forward, Senator Hillary Clinton had a Jewish step-grandfather. Let me stipulate that as a Jew myself I may not be entirely neutral on this subject.

What interests me is not the fact of Jewish ancestry but how one handles the disclosure. In most cases the persons simply confirm the fact and go on with their lives. The joke is told that Secretary Albright, confronted by a Washington Post reporter with evidence of a Jewish lineage, responded, Oy vey. Whatever that means. Let me repeat, this is a joke. On CNN on Thursday, Albright took a cool approach. It shows the complicated genealogy that exists in this day and age, she said.

Senator Allen displayed extreme discomfort when asked about a Jewish connection. He suggested that merely to raise the question was anti-Semitic. He told the Richmond Times Dispatch that a disclosure of his heritage was just an interesting nuance of my background and added, I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. He emphasized that his mother had long kept from him the knowledge of his Jewish forbearers in order to protect him from the fate of her father in turn by the Nazis in a concentration camp in North Africa. Altogether Senator Allen handled the Jewish issue as an acute embarrassment, to be dealt with very delicately. He's apparently working to integrate the revelation of a Jewish background into his campaign image as a Christian conservative. May I say to the senator, Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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