General story Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Will JFK’s grandson become our first Jewish president?

Jack Schlossberg, son of Caroline Kennedy and Edwin Schlossberg, grandson of President John F. Kennedy

May 29 would have been President John F. Kennedy’s one hundredth birthday.

Here is the question: would JFK be shepping nachas in heaven over his grandson, Jack Schlossberg, the son of Caroline and Edwin Schlossberg?

Hold on.

“JFK” and “nachas” in the same sentence?

Apparently, some Jews are going there.

It’s about young Jack, whose physical resemblance to his late uncle John Kennedy, Jr. would be uncanny, except for that whole genetics thing.

Jack is a recent Yale graduate, and he is on his way to Harvard Law School.

Asked about his future plans: “I’m inspired by my family’s legacy of public service. It’s something I’m very proud of. But I’m still trying to make my own way and figure things out. So stay tuned—I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Writes Rachel Shukert in Tablet:

So I’m just going to go ahead and call it now, folks: Unless by some miracle the Red Sea parts and President Al Franken strides out of its primordial depths in 2020, we may have just gotten our first glimpse at our first Jewish President—unless they try to foist the execrable Ivanka on us first.

Even though he has only been voting for four years, we already imagine that Jack Schlossberg is a. going to run for public office, b. going to be president of the United States, and c. he will be the first Jewish president.

Given the history of the Kennedy clan, I would say there is a fighting chance that Jack has a political future.

As his paternal grandparents might have once said: Gei gezunt.

But, can we talk about Jack Schlossberg being Jewish?

First of all, it if were true, it would not have bothered his grandparents and great-uncles and aunts a bit.

Let’s remember: in her later years, his late grandmother, Jackie Onassis, kept company with a Jewish man, Maurice Templesman.

Let’s also remember: Robert Kennedy was assassinated almost fifty years ago – precisely because of his support for Israel during the Six Day War.

As for Jack Schlossberg’s great-grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy: let’s just say that there were no ADL dinners in his honor.

I would actually want his great-grandchildren to be Jewish — just to prove that God has a wicked (as in its Bostonian usage) sense of humor.

Jack’s mother, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, is a product of America’s premier Irish Catholic family.

His father, Edwin Schlossberg, has a serious Jewish background.

His father, Alfred, was president of New York’s Park East Synagogue, which is Orthodox, where Edwin became bar mitzvah. Schlossberg has said that he is “proud to be Jewish.”

But, does that make their children Jewish? (Jack’s sister, Rose Kennedy Schlossberg, was also once “outed” as being Jewish in the pages of the Forward).

First, traditional Jewish law states that if the mother is Jewish, the kids are Jewish.

So, according to any rabbinical colleagues on my right – that would be: No, the Schlossberg kids are not Jewish.

But, wait: what about Reform and Reconstructionist  practice? Don’t they say that the child of a Jewish father can be Jewish?

Well — sort of.

Since 1983, Reform Judaism has considered a child of an interfaith couple to be Jewish if the child is raised exclusively as a Jew. The child would need a Jewish education and celebrate appropriate life cycle events, such as becoming bar or bat mitzvah.

Reconstructionist practice is similar.

Even with such a liberal and welcoming policy, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis would ask:

Were the Schlossberg children raised exclusively as Jews, Jewish education, bar and bat mitzvah?

The deeper question is, of course: do the Schlossberg children consider themselves to be Jewish?

If Jack Schlossberg wanted to join the Jewish people, who wouldn’t welcome him? There are many children of interfaith marriages who decide that they want to be Jews, and who act on that decision.

We have even welcomed descendants of distinguished American political families into the Jewish people. Joshua Boettiger, the great-grandson of Franklin D. Roosevelt, serves as rabbi of Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland, Oregon.

I am interested in the “Jack Schlossberg is Jewish” thing — not because of what it says about him, but because of what it says about us.

It is what David E. Kaufman refers to as “Jewhooing,”  

…the habit of citing Jewish celebrities—“Didja know, Natalie Portman is Jewish!”—is characteristic of many Jews… It demonstrates that Jews are a part of America, but nonetheless remain distinctive, even exceptional, and thus stand apart from America.

Secure Jews would not “need” for Jack Schlossberg to be Jewish.

They would not need to collect Jewish celebrities, real or imagined, as if the mere existence of such celebrities validated Jewishness itself.

They would not need to incessantly point to the number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners, as if God charged us at Sinai to become a kingdom of Ph.D’s.

Our grandparents did this.

Must we continue to do so?

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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