And then there’s the latest addition to the showcase: a shofar, the ram’s horn that Jews blow to signal the annual time of repentance.
Six years ago, then-U.S. Sen. Allen (R) — now in a tight race with former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D) to regain his seat — found himself portrayed in news reports and voters’ minds as a colossally insensitive brute, a senator who publicly slurred an Indian American man who was working for his opponent at a campaign event, calling him “macaca.”
After that, a torrent of reports about Allen’s past poisoned his campaign: As a young man in California, he wore a Confederate flag pin in his high school senior class photo; later, he displayed a Confederate flag in his home (part of a flag collection, he said) and a noose in his law office (Allen said it fit the room’s Western motif); associates said he had used racial slurs about black people, which Allen resolutely denied.
Then, during a debate with Democrat James Webb, a TV reporter asked Allen whether it was true that his mother’s family was Jewish. Allen reacted angrily, accusing the questioner of casting “aspersions.”
“My mother is French-Italian with a little Spanish blood in her,” Allen responded. “I’ve been raised, and she was, as far as I know, raised as a Christian.”
That was not true. Allen knew then (he’d learned it a month before) that his mother was indeed born and raised Jewish.
A few days later, after admitting that, Allen, feisty as ever, told an interviewer that despite his newfound Jewish heritage, “I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. And my mother made great pork chops.”
Allen, who was widely believed to be using the Senate race to launch a presidential run, lost by 9,000 votes among 2.4 million cast. It was his first defeat since his initial run, for Virginia’s House, in 1979.
Now, six years later, Allen points out the shofar to a visitor. There is no more denial. No more jokes. He has studied his family history, learned about his roots.
Quietly, he tells about the day he asked his mother, now 89, whether the rumors were true that she really wasn’t Anglican but had grown up Jewish in Tunisia. Henrietta “Etty” Allen wept as she agreed to tell him the truth, but only “if you swear on Pop-op’s head that you won’t tell anybody.”
George Felix Allen blushes tomato red as he speaks about his Jewish grandfather, Felix Lumbroso. The former governor stares at the floor and recalls his mother’s fear of exposing her children to the hatred and venom she had seen as a child in Nazi-occupied North Africa.
After Allen’s mother revealed the secret she’d kept from her husband and children for six decades, Etty Allen asked her son, “Do you still love me?”