Cameron Kerry, a convert to Judaism (in Reform Movement style, which may be disputed by competing denominations) noted that his brother John, a Catholic, “often joined his family for Shabbat dinner, though the senator from Massachusetts had never come to a family Passover Seder.”
A quick Republican spinner could have used this no-show to suggest that, as the Seder is a celebration of freedom, John Kerry may be harboring pro-slavery sentiments. But the JTA story just continued to seek its own Anatevka roots with lines like: “As the lunch wound down, one or two of the diners slipped some of the warm rugelach that had been put out for dessert into their purses and briefcases. One asked for a brown paper bag and emptied a plateful.”
There was, apparently, a Q & A segment, when brother Kerry was asked about his favorite Jewish food. “Lox,” he said.
The phenomenon of catering (literally) to large blocks of ethnic voters through cheap gastronomical gestures is not limited to this campaign, and certainly not to Jewish voters. Why, former President Bush bar-b-cued so many ribs for the down-home folks, he could qualify as a franchise. So why did the scene on “Grand Avenue” bother me so much this time around?
It probably has to do with the fact that the Lower East Side in which Cameron Kerry imagined he was gnawing on his semi-sour pickles has been gone for at least fifty years, and its disappearance has been accelerated in the last five. The Eastern European Jewish character of the neighborhood is a cherished memory, but in reality the centers of vibrant traditional Jewish life have long since moved to Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau County, Westchester County, Riverdale and New Jersey.
The slow decline of traditional Jewish life on the Lower East Side is a serious concern, born by economic changes and the changing needs of Jewish families in the city. Frankly, I think these changes are inevitable. I also trust that the local Jewish community will find adequate ways to preserve its way of life down there. Jews do the survival thing better than any other known human group.
So why did the visit end up as a poster for any one of Shalom Aleichem’s more colorful creations? I suspect it’s because JTA is serving a constituency of national Jewish newspapers, and those are much more interested in the pickle and lox angle than they are in learned discussions of the state of Jewish communities in America.
I’ve no idea how to connect the two parts of this story, and it’s Friday, so things must be cut and posted in a hurry. The common theme is Cameron Kerry, otherwise these are two disparate commentaries. Sorry.
You’re going to eat this pickle?