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George Allen looks to his roots while planting campaign seeds

"I then followed up and asked if any of her family way back were of the Jewish religious faith? I asked my mother about the possible Portuguese and Jewish roots, I simply said, 'Is there anything to this, many centuries ago?' " Allen recalled. After more prodding, he said, she revealed her own Jewishness, which she had hid for decades.

(Back in 2006, Etty Allen told a Washington Post reporter that she explained to her son that she had concealed her roots for fear of anti-Semitism, but also because her future husband didn't want her to tell his mother. Plus, she said, he wanted to be a football coach. "How many Jewish coaches are there?")

Allen said he had promised "on Pop-pop's head" that he would tell no one, referring to his mother's father. "My mother then haltingly told me that 'Pop-pop was Jewish.' I was surprised."

Allen said it was this promise that accounted for some awkward moments during the 2006 campaign, when he answered a question about his possible Jewish heritage at a campaign debate by saying, "My mother's French Italian, with a little Spanish blood in her. And I was raised as she was, as far as I know, raised as a Christian."

In front of the crowd in Reston, Allen described the discovery of his Jewish roots as "interestingly positive." Then, according to the prepared text, he added: "I found those facts interesting because I majored in history and have been a leader for nanotechnology."

Allen concluded his speech to a standing ovation. Mintz climbed the stage and presented Allen with a carved shofar, explaining its symbolism and its use on the High Holy Days. Allen was visibly moved, attendees said, then returned to the microphone and talked about how connected he felt to his Pop-pop. Then he blew the shofar.

Baila Olidort, editor in chief of the Lubavitch News Service, was impressed.

"For someone who has never blown shofar before," she said, "he did well."

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