Shana Tova, George Allen

Sunday, September 24, 2006

It was a momentous last week of the Jewish ca lendar year 5766 for Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). On Monday, he angrily avoided discussing his potential Jewish heritage with reporter Peggy Fox, saying his mother was "raised as a Christian." The next day, he acknowledged for the first time his family's "Jewish heritage." And on Wednesday, his mother, Henrietta "Etty" Allen, confirmed that both of her parents were Jewish. Which means that, according to Jewish law, Allen is technically Jewish. Outlook asked several Virginia rabbis about what the senator might expect from his first High Holiday season. -- Rachel Dry

What is the holiday about, anyway?

"Rosh Hashanah serves a lot of purposes in modern Judaism. It encourages people to do a great deal of introspection and soul-searching, to ask what their place is in the world, how they can be better people, how they can contribute to the betterment of themselves, their people and their world," says Rabbi Martin P. Beifield Jr. of Congregation Beth Ahabah in Richmond.

Can I campaign during the holidays?

"During the three holy days, the first two of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, somebody who's going to be enmeshed in the faith wouldn't be out politicking. In terms of days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, those are regular work days, so certainly someone could be out campaigning," says Rabbi Gary S. Creditor of Temple Beth-El in Richmond. "Even in politicking for any office, Judaism has core values about how we say what we say. It has phrases like 'basic respect' and the 'value of truth' and obviously people running for office try to point out weaknesses of their opponent, but the core values still apply."

Am I invited to synagogue?

"If he decides he wants to show up at a synagogue, I would encourage him," says Rabbi Bruce Aft of Congregation Adat Reyim Springfield.

What about the food?

"On Rosh Hashanah, we eat a challah bread that is rounded -- indicating that the cycle of life goes around, has its completion and it starts again. We're not a run-on sentence. The bread is dipped in honey, namely for the idea of sweetness," says Creditor. And then there's the holiday meal.

"It's a great menu, but nothing to write home about. My mother comes down from New Jersey, does her baking -- it's really something. She makes a plum cake, not a special Rosh Hashanah treat, but, you know, it's my mother's plum cake."

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