What being Jewish meant to Arlen Specter


Senator Arlen Specter passed away on Sunday after a long bout with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

As he took office in 1981, JTA reprinted an interview that Specter did with the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. That item closed with these thoughts from the Pennsylvania senator about his Jewish pedigree:



SPECTER: It is a tradition which identifies my roots and gives structure to religious beliefs and ethical beliefs and family background. Being Jewish to me means that life has a lot of struggle to it; that my father came from Russia, where he was oppressed, where there were pogroms and people were fearful about the Cossacks riding down the streets of Russia, and he come to the United States.

My parents kept kosher while we lived in Wichita, but could not when we moved to the small town of Russell, which was a town of 5,000. I have two very Orthodox sisters who have followed that line from our family training. There is a very deep sense of the need to provide opportunities for Jews worldwide, again in a very personal sense from the problems that my father and mother had–the great opportunities which my brother and sisters and I have had as a result of what my parents did.

There is a great spirit of philanthropy which comes with being Jewish. To say that my father was not wealthy is inaccurate. We were very poor in the ’30s. But he was always a generous man. There was always room at the table for somebody else to share what little we had. And he was impeccably honest. At a time when it was hard to maintain integrity, he maintained integrity. Those are very important values.  

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