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A Jewish Clinton

Chelsea’s engagement to Marc Mezvinsky ended up being about her (shiksa) assimilation—and her family’s temptation.

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Some Jews bemoan the loss of one of their own to intermarriage. But if last week’s headlines from the Jewish press are any gauge, there are certain exceptions. “Chelsea Clinton to Wed Jewish Boyfriend,” kvelled Haaretz, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and the Jerusalem Post. “Chelsea Clinton Engaged to Marc Mezvinsky, a Jew,” announced the Jewish Journal, just to make sure the point wasn’t lost. And the reader comments … It was as if the world had discovered yet another Jewish boxer. She looks Jewish, noted Yosemite; What a great democracy, declared Dani A; and, of course, Mazel Tov, Chelsea! from Aharon, who also asked the question on everyone’s minds: Will she convert?

In point of fact, there’s hardly any evidence at all that Chelsea will convert—or even that she’s embraced much of her fiancé’s tradition. The stories cite the same lonely data point, which is that she supposedly attended Yom Kippur services with Mezvinsky at the Jewish Theological Seminary. But no matter: This is one of those instances where the prize—the First Daughter!—outshines the loss to the tribe (like when Arthur Miller wed Marilyn Monroe). It’s a story of Jewish irresistibleness, rather than the other way around.

In the end, though, this story is not all that unusual. Despite the best efforts of JDate, intermarriage is almost the norm in some circles—the National Jewish Population Survey says the rate is 47 percent—leaving innovative mash-up weddings (the hora on the heels of an Irish step dance?) in their wake. But the daughters of political families do seem, possibly, more susceptible: In 1997, Karenna Gore married Andrew Schiff—a doctor!—the scion of the German-Jewish banking family with roots going back to King Solomon. (Though okay, okay, he was raised Episcopalian. But still.) Lauren Bush, the niece of George W., is dating Ralph Lauren’s son, David, who, if you believe the Daily News, didn’t come to Jenna’s spring 2008 wedding in part because Lauren’s mother had, shall we say, qualms about his faith. (“Would he expect her to convert to Judaism?” fretted Rush and Molloy’s source.) In 1986, Caroline Kennedy married Ed Schlossberg, the artist grandson of Russian Jews. Theoretically, the pairing should have scandalized her mother. But by then, haute goy Jackie O. had already spent four years with Maurice Tempelsman, a Jewish diamond merchant from Antwerp.

The Kennedys, though, might have been choosing Jewish partners as a means to escape their own Kennedyness. That’s not necessarily the case with Chelsea. Her father’s administration had a distinct Jewish sensibility, packed as it was with so many Jewish advisers (Robert Rubin, Robert Reich, Ira Magaziner, Rahm Emanuel … ). And the city’s Jews have embraced her mother, the former carpetbagger who once embraced Suha Arafat. Whether or not Chelsea ends up getting hitched under a chuppa, she has lots of other things in common with Mezvinksy: Stanford diplomas, a fluency in finance (until recently she worked at a hedge fund, and he still does). Perhaps most important, though, is that they’re products of political households. Both of his parents were members of Congress. And they both know what it’s like to have fathers who’ve been publicly humiliated. (His dad, Ed, spent five years in jail for fraud involving Nigerian e-mail scams; hers, we know.) In those senses, the two lovebirds—and b’sha’ah tova to them both—are already part of the same, and much rarer, tribe.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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