'64 Goldwater candidacy led to talk about Judaism

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - The selection of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as Al Gore's running mate marks the first time a person of his faith has been part of a major political party's national ticket. But 36 years ago, there were whispers that a Republican nominee for president was, at least in part, Jewish.

When Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964, the conservative Republican was confronted with questions about his religion because, though he was raised an Episcopalian, his father was Jewish.


"He considered himself Episcopalian with Jewish heritage," says Victor Gold, a Washington writer who was Goldwater's deputy press secretary during his presidential bid. "He did not consider himself Jewish, but he never backed away from the fact that he had a Jewish parent."

Goldwater died in 1998.


In his 1988 autobiography, Goldwater wrote that it was only upon entering Washington politics that "I was reminded I was a Jew."

"I'm proud of my ancestors and heritage," he wrote. "I've simply never practiced the Jewish faith or seen myself or our family primarily of the Jewish culture."

The grandfather of the presidential nominee was a Jewish peddler, Michael Goldwater, who came to the United States a few years after leaving Russian-ruled Konin, Poland, in 1849. He became a leader in California Jewish congregations and, during Arizona's territorial days, led informal gatherings during the Jewish High Holidays.

Barry Goldwater's uncles became observant Jews; his father, Baron, though not a practicing Jew later in life, was raised in a Jewish home.

In an interview with the Jewish News in 1994, the senator said, "I've heard that my Dad was bar mitzvah, but no one can prove it." He said his mother, Josephine Williams Goldwater, "was a gentile, an Episcopalian from a small town in Illinois."

Michael Goldwater, the late senator's son, said that when his father's parents were married, there weren't any synagogues in the Phoenix area. What's more, he said, "there wasn't any great propensity to marry within one's religion because of the scarcity of Jews in that area."

Goldwater, director of the Arizona Registrar of Contractors, said his father told of how, when stopped from playing golf at a restricted country club on the East Coast, asked whether he could play nine holes.

Goldwater's funeral was held at the Episcopal church where he had been baptized 87 years earlier. Delivering prayers were a Native American, a Catholic priest, an Episcopal minister and a rabbi, the last at the request of his second wife Susan Goldwater, who converted to Judaism after marrying her first husband, who was Jewish.


"We covered all the bases," said Michael Goldwater, "just to make sure he got to where he was going."