Tracing a Jewish Heritage

Monday, October 2, 2006

Ruth Marcus's Sept. 23 op-ed column, "Etty Allen's Unease," touched on an important distinction between Jews and other religionists: Jews are linked by ethnicity and common DNA. Presbyterians aren't, Catholics aren't and even Muslims aren't so defined. But Jews, except the tiny number who convert to Judaism, can trace their common origins back to Semitic people of the ancient land of Israel, which is the foundation for the Zionist claim to present-day Israel.

A recent and troubling cultural development in the American Jewish community is denial of these blood ties, as if the fact of being born of the "tribe" -- as Ms. Marcus herself put it -- can be eliminated through baptism in, say, an Episcopal church.

Sen. George Allen's Jewish roots have everything to do with his mother's ethnicity, not her religion. Being Jewish isn't just a function of religious affinity. It's in the genes.




Ruth Marcus's column was as entertaining as it was insightful. Still, understanding Sen. George Allen's discomfiture at being "outed" as having Jewish forebears would be difficult were it not for Ms. Marcus's mother and my grandmother. It seems to me that most immigrant Jews of my grandmother's era, the late 19th century, quickly developed the "Jewdar" Ms. Marcus described. It was a skill required for survival and advancement in an alien and potentially hostile environment. Some took an easier approach, assimilation, sometimes at the price of a nagging guilt.

Some Jews approached their challenge to survive by employing a reverse Jewdar -- a skill perfected by my grandmother when she watched "The Ed Sullivan Show." After each act, she would decide whether the performer was Jewish predicated on the amount of applause that followed the act; more applause elicited a conspiratorial "he is Jewish, you know," while lesser applause resulted in disownment (though she was never quite sure about Topo Gigio).




I found Ruth Marcus's column quite offensive, particularly the notion that one wouldn't suspect Sen. George Allen's Jewish heritage in light of his football connection: "First, there's Allen's football shtick: the coach father, the incessant gridiron metaphors, the -- pardon the phrase -- pigskin he likes to toss into the audience at campaign events."

A good number of Jewish people have been involved in football and at a prominent level. Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder is Jewish, as are his NFL colleagues Art Modell and Jeff Lurie, and so was the late Carroll Rosenbloom. Hall of Famers Benny Friedman and Sid Luckman were Jewish, as are Ron Mix, Jay Fiedler, Sage Rosenfels and many others.

I'm 100 percent Jewish and invented the kickoff tee that has been used in the NFL since 1999.

The article was almost as offensive as those that assume every Jew blindly votes in the Democrat column.


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