The conventional community memory of Kennedy would be enough by itself. JFK overcame the legacy of his father, President Franklin Roosevelt’s notoriously appeasement-minded ambassador to Britain on the eve of World War II, Joseph Kennedy, to build a warm relationship with American Jews.
As Warren Bass recounted a decade ago in his book “Support Any Friend,” the U.S.-Israel alliance advanced significantly with JFK’s approval of the sale of HAWK — short for Homing All the Way Killer — missiles to Israel.
President Kennedy appointed Arthur Goldberg as labor secretary and then to the Supreme Court, Abraham Ribicoff as secretary of health, education and welfare, and Mortimer Caplin as internal revenue commissioner. Even a strangely large number of the gentiles in his administration had Jewish roots: Speechwriter Ted Sorensen was a self-described “Danish Russian Jewish Unitarian,” while Treasury secretary Douglas Dillon and White House aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr. both had Jewish immigrant grandfathers.
In the closing days of the 1960 campaign, Kennedy held separate rallies in New York’s garment district with David Dubinsky’s International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and with the rival Amalgamated Clothing Workers, which also was heavily Jewish.
In conducting research for my new book, “JFK, Conservative,” I came across two lesser-known pieces of evidence that shed new light on Kennedy’s positive views about the American Jewish community and the warmth of his relationship with it.