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US Politician Embraces Jewish Roots

Former Virginia senator George Allen found out during his election campaign that his grandfather was Jewish.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 8/24/2010, 3:49 AM / Last Update: 8/24/2010, 3:46 AM

A former US Senator is exploring his Jewish roots of which he found out four years ago.

In 2006, Republican George Allen of Virginia found out that his grandfather – his mother’s father – was Jewish. Allen’s mother had hidden this fact for years and the revelation came out during a conversation between mother and son, on the backdrop of his 2006 re-election campaign, during which Allen’s ancestry had become a hot topic of conversation.

The Washington Post reported that Allen spoke last Thursday to Chabad members at the Reston Hyatt-Regency hotel outside Washington. During his talk, Allen recalled the conversation he had with his mother, as he questioned her about her ancestry:

"After this last of my innocent, cross-examination questions in between spoons of cereal, my mother very seriously told me that she would tell me 'something' but only if I swore not to tell anyone. She insisted that I 'swear' on Pop-pop’s [her father's] head that I tell no one. … My mother then haltingly told me that 'Pop-pop was Jewish.'"

Allen called the discovery of his Jewish roots “fascinating” and added that “from that day forward, the core principle of freedom of conscience, beliefs and religion was no longer a matter of enlightened philosophy to me. It became deeply personal in my heart-wrenching realization of how fear and persecution so tormented my loving, loyal mother’s life." 

Allen, who is in the process of preparing a 2012 run to reclaim his seat from Democratic Senator Jim Webb, was also observed eating kosher chicken during the evening. In his remarks, he said that the revelation of his Jewish ancestry was especially interesting "because I majored in history and have been a leader for nanotechnology."

Rabbi Efraim Mintz, executive director of Chabad’s Jewish Learning Institute was quoted in the Washington Post as saying about Allen: "His mother's Jewish; we definitely view him wholeheartedly as a fellow Jew.” He added that "the fact that George feels fully comfortable with his Jewish identity and his Jewish origin sends a strong message to the community."

Following Allen’s speech, Rabbi Mintz presented him with a shofar. Allen, who was visibly moved, blew the shofar. As Baila Olidort, editor in chief of the Lubavitch News Service, remarked: "For someone who has never blown shofar before, he did well."