Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Tell me are you a Christian child?" "Ma'am, I am tonight!"

by Ken Houghton

As 5766 fades and 5767 approaches with the Sabbath, I've tried to avoid thinking about George Allen. But Brad DeLong (who else?) provides the final straw with this piece from Wonkette, and especially:
Jennifer Allen's memoir does have this anecdote, though:
I'd only been to church once. Throughout the service, Mom gave a continual play-by-play.

The procession of the priest: "Here comes the hypocrite."
The collection plate: "Here come the vultures."
The forgiveness of sins: "Here comes the guilt."

We kinda like Etty Allen.

If this is how one "was raised as a Christian, and my mother was raised as a Christian," then someone needs to rework the catechism/Confirmation process.*

It gets slightly more interesting, though. The Forward article continues:
"And I embrace and take great pride in every aspect of my diverse heritage, including my Lumbroso family line's Jewish heritage, which I learned about from a recent magazine article and my mother confirmed." Later in the day, Allen's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, identified the article as a story by E.J. Kessler that appeared in the Forward last month. According to Wadhams, after reading the article the senator decided to ask his mother about her Jewish roots.

The article in question is here. One highlight:
Though Etty Allen seems not to have dwelled on it during her years in the spotlight as a coach's wife, she comes from the august Sephardic Jewish Lumbroso family. Her father, who was the main importer of wines and liquors in Tunis—including the Cinzano brand—was known in France, where he lived after World War II, as part of the family, according to French Jewish sources. If both of Etty's parents were born Jewish—which, given her age and background, is likely—Senator Allen would be considered Jewish in the eyes of traditional rabbinic law, which traces Judaism through the mother.

Our daughters are DAR because they're mine. Our daughters are Jewish because they are Shira's. George Felix Allen, son of a Jewish mother, is Jewish. Those are matters of fact.

Another matter of fact is that the Forward article was published on August 25th—more than three weeks before the debate with Webb on September 18th, from which this video has made the rounds. And weeks after his mother told him the truth.

Allen's mother's family is hardly undistinguished:
Dr. Jeffrey Malka, an expert on Sephardic genealogy, told the Forward in an e-mail that in Portugal the Lumbrosos became conversos—unlike Spanish Jews, Portuguese Jews were not allowed to leave and were forcibly converted en masse—who escaped to Livorno, where they were able to return to Judaism. Malka called the Livorno community "fascinating" because, invited by the Medicis, they became wealthy and powerful traders, setting up branches in Tunis and ransoming Jews captured by Barbary pirates.

Among the most famous members of the family, Malka said, was Itzhak Lumbroso, an 18th-century rabbi and rabbinic judge who wrote a commentary on the Talmud, "Seed of Isaac," that was the first book printed in Hebrew in Tunis.

This is not the type of heritage one normally wishes to deny—and certainly not one about which to be petulant. And one cannot say Allen wasn't warned about possible consequences. Again, from the Forward article:
Political analyst John Mercurio of National Journal's noted tip sheet, The Hotline, said that any complication "would depend largely on how this information was revealed."

"If it was discovered that Allen knew this family history, but attempted to keep it under wraps for whatever reason, it could do great harm to any political campaign," Mercurio wrote in an e-mail. "He'd face serious questions, in the wake of the Macaca incident and his history with the Confederate flag, of whether he's both racially prejudiced and anti-semitic....[O]n the other hand, if this is something he discovers and promptly reveals about himself, and does so with a sense of pride in his family history, I don't think he'd face much backlash at all."

Twenty-four days later, we know for certain that he did not take Mercurio's advice.

Let us be clear: Allen downplays the Catholic side of his family as well. He is described as "a practicing Presbyterian," the religion of neither of his parents:
In another of the book's anecdotes, George Allen Sr., a practicing Roman Catholic, encounters problems when he wants to marry his fiancee, Etty, in a Catholic church.

"The priest said he would marry them only if Mom agreed to raise as Catholic any children the marriage might produce," Jennifer Allen wrote. "As a young woman, my mother had an 'incident' with a priest in Tunis, so Mom said 'Over my dead body' to the priest. My mother and father were married by a justice of the peace in a Jewish friend's home with two witnesses."

Apparently, George Felix Allen and his handlers believe that he needs to be seen as a non-Catholic, non-Jewish Christian. As the New Year approaches, it's probably too much to hope that Allen embraces his heritage—either of his heritages. That he doesn't seem able or willing to do so reflects poorly on his character. He isn't what he is; he is what he thinks the voters want him to be.

That should not make his mother—or her ancestors—proud.

*As you can see from the rest of this post, I cannot tell if Allen went through the Protestant or the Catholic process. (It is safe to assume he was not bar mitzvahed.) Indeed, one might now expect some intrepid reporter to find documentation of whether he was actually raised in a Christian faith, or—as I would suspect—became Presbyterian in his adulthood and only then went through any catechism, as is implied by his sister's memoir.

Title reference; see especially Dave Marsh's notes entry here. And, yes, I am kicking myself that I used Randy Newman's "Land of Dreams" on this post, since "An American Christian! Goddamn!" would have been the perfect title here.
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