January 15, 2010
A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the 13 Jews in the Senate, specifically the 11 Democrats and the two Independents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, who guard the left and right flanken of the Democratic caucus. I wrote that these two white-haired gents from New England not only define the boundaries of Democratic politics — they also describe a certain arc of Jewish identity in the last century, from secular-socialist to Orthodox-conservative, with the other 11 arrayed in between. You’ve heard of life imitating art? Well, this is a case of the particular managing by sheerest coincidence to mirror the general. Call it Kal ve-chomer be-akrai (from the specific to the general, by chance).
It can now be told that the picture is more complex — and perhaps more complete — than I was able to describe at the the time. Two other senators, both appointed to replace members of the incoming Obama administration, have a single Jewish parent each, and an ambivalent connection to their Jewish heritage: Ted Kaufman of Delaware, appointed to Joe Biden’s seat, and Michael Bennet of Colorado, appointed to replace Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Kaufman had a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, and was raised Catholic; but this New York Times profile includes a reminiscence about his childhood in which he seems at one point to contrast himself casually with his “non-Jewish friends.”
As for Bennet, he seems to be rather guarded about his relationship to his Jewish identity — perhaps mirroring his mother’s experience as a hidden child during the Holocaust in Poland. In this profile in the Rocky Mountain News, most of what’s said on the topic comes from his brother James, the editor of The Atlantic.
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