Arlen Specter, A Fiercely Independent American Original

Appreciation

getty images

By Jane Eisner

Published October 14, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Backstage, before his talk, he was eager to learn more about the school. How much was tuition? What did students learn? Ever the prosecutor, he peppered the room with questions, and greeted some of the answers with undisguised skepticism. He was not the man to argue with lightly, but he took the students’ questions seriously and without condescension.

And he cared. His wife Joan — who became famous in Philadelphia for an eponymous company selling pies, then for many years served as one of only two Republicans on the City Council — eventually went to work at the National Constitution Center in the development office, using her formidable rolodex to coax money from her peers. And it sure helped that for some of that time, her husband was chair of the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. Senate.

I was a vice president of the Constitution Center for several years, and I remember the Specters coming and going — Joan to accompany Arlen on one of his many forays overseas, where he would meet with leaders in Pakistan or Syria, infuriating his Senate colleagues and sometimes Jewish leaders by attempting to conduct his own foreign policy. Then Arlen would reciprocate, and meet with one of Joan’s top prospects, or grace an important public event. He didn’t have to feign an appreciation and knowledge of the Constitution. He had lived it.

Specter’s Jewishness was the kind born of the immigrant experience, of being raised in the only Jewish family in a small Kansan town, and of fighting his way into the political arena in Philadelphia just when Jews were at the brink of acceptance. It translated politically into staunch support for Israel, for the separation of religion and state, and the preservation of civil liberties. It translated personally into support for Jewish institutions in the city he called home for decades.

But his Jewishness never translated into a level of true comfort in this country, even though he came to walk the loftiest halls of power. In an oral history taped earlier this year for PCN, Specter was asked at what point in his life did he notice it didn’t matter whether he was a Jew or not.

“Never,” he replied. “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not. Probably not.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.