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For Kerry's Jewish Brother, Pickle Choice is Order of Day

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NEW YORK, Sept. 22 (JTA)--In a ritual well known to Jewish New Yorkers, Sen. John Kerry's campaign participated in a tradition this week that long has been a prerequisite of campaigning in the city Rev. Jesse Jackson once infamously dubbed "Hymietown."

The campaign came to a kosher deli.

The Democratic nominee himself was busy stumping in Florida--a state where, unlike New York, the vote actually may matter this year--so his Jewish brother, Cameron Kerry, was dispatched to eat the obligatory smoked-meat sandwich on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

"I had the pastrami," Kerry said when asked about his menu selection. "It was good pastrami--tender."

By contrast, the Jewish journalists who joined Kerry for lunch ordered very non-Jewish-looking avocado wraps, chicken salads and tuna fish.

The stop Wednesday at Noah's Ark deli on Grand Avenue, just steps away from a world-famous bialy purveyor, was sandwiched between a series of Jewish meetings for the candidate's brother, who has become a key adviser to John Kerry (D-Mass.) and has been central to the campaign's outreach to Jews.

Cameron Kerry spent the morning meeting a host of New York Jewish communal officials, and afterward he headed off to Flatbush, Brooklyn, to visit a garage of Hatzolah, the Jewish volunteer ambulance service, and then to a food pantry in Canarsie, Brooklyn, run by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

The lunchtime meeting at the deli, hosted by New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was an opportunity for Kerry to talk to a small group about his brother's positions--and his own Jewish predilections.

"Energy independence is a national security issue, not just an economic one," Kerry said, critiquing President Bush's energy policy. "Bush has taken his eye off the ball."

But the talk quickly turned to more important issues--like pickles.

Kerry said he preferred the half-sour variety, which he demonstrated by biting into one. Silver, a Lower East Side native and an Orthodox Jew, chided him for his choice.

"The is the home of the sour pickle--the Lower East Side," Silver said. "Gus' Pickles is right around here."

Silver also noted that the film Crossing Delancey, a love story drenched in nostalgia for the Lower East Side, had been filmed not far away, and described where the old building of the Yiddish Daily Forward was situated in relation to the restaurant.

Kerry nodded earnestly.

The lunchtime meeting also was an opportunity for all assembled to recount their own experiences meeting presidents and presidential candidates on the Lower East Side, including a gray-bearded man with a black hat who stopped by Kerry's table on his way out of the restaurant.

"This reminds me of the day that John F. Kennedy came to the Lower East Side," he said.

Others quickly chimed in with tales of a Lyndon Johnson visit to the Borough Park section of Brooklyn; a Dwight Eisenhower rally at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge, and a Kennedy rally--they couldn't remember whether it had been Jack or Bobby--on the Lower East Side on the eve of Sukkot.

Kerry noted that his brother often joined his family for Shabbat dinner, though the senator from Massachusetts had never come to a family Passover seder.

After New York, Kerry said he was going to campaign in Michigan for a day or two before "going home for Yontif." On Yom Kippur, he said, his daughter would be reading from the Torah at his home temple in Massachusetts.

"My girls have a very strong sense of Jewish identity," Kerry said. One of them--Jessica--won an award at her high school for leadership of a Jewish youth club, he noted.

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.

Kerry was asked about his favorite Jewish food.

"Lox," he said.

"The mayor really likes gefilte fish," Silver offered.

To be sure, nuclear proliferation in Iran is an important issue this presidential campaign--"You just can't ignore the threat; you've got to deal with it," Cameron Kerry said--but on this particular campaign stop, more prosaic things seemed to be on people's minds.

When a waiter came by to take away the leftover french fries, the only question one reporter had was: "Can I take that with me?"

Yiddish for "stuffed fish," a patty made of ground up varieties of fish, matzo meal and spices, boiled in fish broth. A popular dish on Passover, sometimes served on Shabbat and other holidays as well. Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Yiddish term for a rolled pastry, often filled with chocolate or nuts, cinnamon, apricot or other flavors, and usually shaped like small crescent rolls. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language, literally meaning "Jewish," once widely used by Ashkenazi communities. It is influenced by German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, and is written with the Hebrew alphabet. It is comparable to the language of many Sephardi communities, Ladino. Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "Booths," it's a fall holiday marking the harvest, like a Jewish Thanksgiving, complete with opportunities for dining and sleeping under the stars. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Yiddish for "holiday." Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. A cabinet- or cupboard-like structure that houses the Torah(s) in a synagogue.
Uriel Heilman

Uriel Heilman, a JTA staff writer based in New York, covers education, Jewish identity issues, philanthropy and the religious movements. He has worked for the Forward, the Jerusalem Post and as an editor at the Long Island Jewish World.

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