Sharon Luckerman is an award-winning Detroit Jewish News staff writer, who lives in Detroit and also writes fiction.
John Kerry's Jewish Brother
This article is reprinted with permission of the Detroit Jewish News, an affiliate of Jewish Renaissance Media.
DETROIT, Feb. 11--When Cameron Kerry fell in love with Oak Park, Mich., native Kathy Weinman, he chose to convert from Catholicism to Judaism.
Little did he know that he already had a strong Jewish connection. His father's parents were Jewish--a fact uncovered last year when the Boston Globe hired a genealogist to check into the family roots of his brother, John Kerry, the Democratic presidential frontrunner thought by many to be of Irish background.
The Kerry family was traced back to a small town in the Austrian empire, now part of the Czech Republic. There, the paper discovered that before immigrating to America, the Kerrys changed their name from Kohn and converted from Judaism to Catholicism.
"It was mind-blowing," says Cam Kerry about first learning his grandparents' true history from the newspaper story. Also surprising to him was the number of Jews in his synagogue who came up to him with similar stories. "It's an American story," he says.
It also could be a powerful Jewish story if John Kerry wins the White House. He would be the first president of the United States with Jewish roots.
"If my zaydie (grandfather) could see this election," says Anne Weinman, Cam's Farmington Hills mother-in-law, who with her husband, Joe, originally emigrated from Eastern Europe.
"Joe, and I are first-generation Americans and it was inconceivable back then that we could be connected to the president of the United States."
Cam's wife, Kathy Weinman, adds, "We have to pinch ourselves once in a while. It's amazing to have a ringside seat to history in the making."
She and their two daughters, ages 13 and 17, also have participated in this history. They were in New Hampshire during the primary. Her daughters campaigned for their uncle, knocking on doors, making calls and holding up signs. Their elder daughter worked in Iowa and volunteered for the Kerry campaign last summer.
Cam, 53, has taken time off from his law firm, Mintz Levin in Boston, and from his position as an adjunct telecommunications law professor at Suffolk Law School there, to work on his brother's presidential campaign. Last week, prior to the Michigan Democratic caucuses on Feb. 7, he was in Detroit stumping for his brother. He stayed with his in-laws in Farmington Hills, where, Anne says, she keeps a kosher kitchen, and Cam, who is knowledgeable of Jewish dietary laws, is one of the few people she trusts in it.
Role Of Judaism
Cam's wife, Kathy, 49, attended Oak Park High School and went to Hebrew school at Congregation B'nai David in Southfield, Mich. Her mother is a former English teacher at Berkley High and her father was part owner of Murray Lighting in Detroit. The Weinmans now belong to Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield.
After graduating from the University of Michigan law school in 1979--magna cum laude--Kathy got her first job at a law firm in Washington, D.C. At the same firm she met Cam, also a magna cum laude graduate (of Boston College Law School). The two were married in 1983. Though brought up Catholic, he decided to convert to Judaism before the marriage.
"I was influenced by Kathy," says Cam. "Judaism is deeply held and meaningful to her. Early on, we established we would raise any children we had as Jewish. So it flowed from that. To be a full participant in their religious education, I would convert."
Cam says what appealed to him about Judaism was the role of study in the religion, that it valued learning and intellectual pursuits, which were comfortable and a part of his upbringing.
He adds that standing on the bimah for each of his daughter's Bat Mitzvahs as a full participant made his religious commitments well worth it. "Judaism is central to us," says Kathy, who is active in her suburban Boston synagogue, Temple Israel in Brookline. "Judaism is a core of my life and important to our family."
When asked how the Catholic and Jewish sides of the family relate, Kathy replies, "It's a terrific relationship." She says that candidate Kerry was supportive when his brother converted to Judaism. He and his family have attended both nieces' baby namings and Bat Mitzvahs. Kathy says she is very close to John Kerry's two daughters.
And the Weinman and Kerry families have become mishpachah (family), says Anne Weinman. Cam's late "blueblood" mother, Rosemary, whose heritage goes back to colonial times with family names like Winthrop and Forbes, and his late father, Richard, were wonderful people proud of all four of their children: Peggy, John, Diana and Cam. She adds that the Kerry family--including Cam's parents and John--were present when Cam and Kathy's daughters were named at the temple.
"Religion has never been an issue between Cam and his [side of the] family," Kathy says. "John's always loved participating in our happy occasions. He's always been there and part of our family."
The Weinmans say they are very active in the Kerry campaign. They support the candidate because of his stand on the environment and education, Anne says.
"I have a greater appreciation for the early caucus and primaries and the role they play," Kathy says. "Our country is so big and it's impossible for everyone to know the candidates. But the Iowans and the people of New Hampshire get that opportunity. We saw them get to know my brother-in-law and his opponents. They made their judgment from the place of knowledge and understanding."
Of course, when asking Cam or the Weinmans why people should vote for Kerry, you won't get a strengths-and-weaknesses kind of answer. However, the warmth and intimacy of the reply gives another insight into this political family of diverse backgrounds.
"There's nobody else I want by my side in a tough situation than my brother," says the easy-going Cam, who has been at his brother's side for all of John's campaigns for office.
"In times of war and great economic challenge, he's the kind of leader we need.'"
Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. 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. The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well.