Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2003 / 9 Adar I, 5763
Funny, you don't look ...
Discovering one's Jewish ancestry is suddenly all the rage in the Democratic Party. You will recall that when she assayed the possibilities of winning a Senate seat from New York, Hillary Clinton disclosed that some distant relation had been Jewish. But that was nothing compared with former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark. Clark, who has so far merely showed a little ankle in the presidential sweepstakes, and who was raised as a Baptist, has proclaimed that he descends from "generations of rabbis in Minsk." Ah yes, the Minsker Clarks.
Generations of rabbis may be hard to outbid, but John Kerry -- that is, John Forbes Kerry -- has managed it. He claims no mere distant relations but instead an actual paternal grandfather. It seems Frederick A. Kerry was born Fritz Kohn in Czechoslovakia. In 1902, he changed his name to Kerry and, in 1905, emigrated to the United States. Kerry, of course, was raised Catholic and only recently discovered his Jewish heritage. On his mother's side (which is the only side that really counts from an Orthodox Jewish perspective), he is pure WASP.
Sen. Joe Lieberman has first claim on Jewishness, of course. And his press secretary clinched it by assuring The Washington Post that only Lieberman had a genuine "lox box."
Howard Dean, the governor of Vermont and a declared presidential aspirant, proudly points to his Jewish wife. It seems President Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, actually started a trend when she revealed her Jewish roots, though one sensed in her case that she would much prefer to have kept the matter under wraps.
What goes on here? For generations, Jews have sought to reinvent themselves as Protestants in America. This is best illustrated by the joke about Mr. Schwartz who becomes very wealthy, marries a blond Protestant, buys a horse farm and changes his name. "Well, Mr. Smith," declares the membership director of an exclusive country club in Long Island, "you certainly have an impressive resume: a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, homes in New York, Paris and London, a 60-foot yacht and prize-winning horses, but you seem to have omitted your religion." Mr. Smith replies: "My religion? Oh, I am a goy."
There was a time when being a goy carried social cache. Or at least being Jewish was considered a social demerit. Is it now a bonus? Is this reverse snobbery? Or could it be something else that is motivating these Democrats?
Two possibilities leap immediately to mind: One is named Bush and the other Sharpton.
There is real worry among Democrats that President Bush's bold and steadfast defense of Israel will sway Jewish voters in 2004. It has already begun to show in the donations flowing to Republican coffers. If you cannot match the president in support for the Jewish state or willingness to confront terror all over the globe, you can always tell voters about your great uncle Moishe.
And then there is the Rev. Al Sharpton. These Democratic candidates will be appearing at debates, Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners and teachers union conventions all across America together. Sharpton, by all accounts, jazzes these highly partisan audiences more than any of the others. But he also has a despicable history as a racist provocateur. He is responsible for inciting two murderous rampages in New York and was the mouth behind the Tawana Brawley hoax.
The brave and right thing for any Democratic candidate would be to disdain Sharpton pointedly and publicly. But none seems willing to risk charges of racial insensitivity, or worse. All of them, including Lieberman, joke about become Sharpton's running mate.
If you shrink from war with Iraq, and you don't dare to challenge even such a scheming, racial spoils artist as Sharpton, tell them about great granddad Solomon.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.