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Former Sen. Allen to discuss Jewish heritage

RICHMOND, Va. | Republican former Sen. George Allen will publicly discuss his mother's Jewish heritage before a Jewish group this week for the first time.

Readying for an expected rematch against Democratic Sen. Jim Webb in 2012, Allen is scheduled to discuss his mother's and grandfather's lineage Thursday at the National Jewish Retreat in Reston.

In his failed 2006 re-election bid, Allen bristled during a debate with Webb when asked about news reports that his mother, Henriette "Etty" Allen, is Jewish.

It was among several blunders that contributed to Allen's upset. He had called a Webb aide of Indian descent "Macaca," a slur in some cultures.

Allen's Jewish grandfather, Felix Lumbroso, was a resistance fighter in French Tunisia whom the Nazis imprisoned during World War II. Allen's middle name, Felix, honors his grandfather.

The father of the former senator and former Virginia governor, the late George H. Allen, was the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach of the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins. Allen's brother, Bruce, is now the Redskins' general manager.

Allen and his three siblings were raised as Christians.

Rabbi Efraim Mintz confirmed that Allen was invited to deliver the keynote address to about 600 people attending the national gathering.

"George Allen is interesting to the American Jewish community especially because of his discovery late in life of his Jewish ancestry," Mintz said in a brief written statement to The Associated Press. "We embrace him as a fellow Jew and we look forward to his remarks."

There was no response Tuesday afternoon to a message left with Allen's office for comment about his scheduled appearance.

Allen lost to Webb in 2006 by 9,329 votes out of nearly 2.4 million cast, a tiny margin that has haunted Allen. Webb's victory gave the Democrats the 51st seat they needed to retake the U.S. Senate majority after 12 years of Republican rule.

In interviews since, Allen acknowledged errors and said he spent time after his defeat learning much about his mother's Jewish ancestry.

In a 2006 debate in Fairfax, however, Allen appeared to seethe when asked about his mother's Jewish roots.

"To be getting into what religion my mother is, I don't think it's relevant," he replied tersely to the reporter who asked the question. "So I'd like to ask you, why is that relevant? My religion? Jim's religion ..." he said as the crowd's applause drowned out his remarks.

"My mother is French-Italian with a little Spanish blood in her," Allen told his questioner.

A day later, Allen sought to further dismiss the issue, telling a reporter that he'd had a ham sandwich for lunch and that his mother makes great pork chops. Jewish dietary rules forbid pork.

For years in political speeches, Allen had noted his grandfather's internment in a Nazi concentration camp, but had ascribed it to his role with the French resistance. He said it never occurred to him that Lumbroso was Jewish.

Etty Allen said in a 2006 interview that she kept her ancestry secret from the children she raised in a football family in the United States, fearing they would be persecuted. She said that when she finally told the senator in August of 2006 — the month before the debate — she tearfully swore him to keep it secret, even from his siblings, his wife and his children.

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