John McCain on Converting to Judaism

In tomorrow’s NYTimes Magazine, Mark Leibovich (author of the best-selling book This Town) interviews Sen. John McCain in a piece titled “How John McCain Turned His Clichés Into Meaning.” In it McCain talks about wanting to convert to Judaism, that is until his friend, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, reminds him about the necessary circumcision.

“Funny story about Lieberman,” he says to me. The Israeli ambassador in Washington honored him after he left the Senate. “Everyone was saying Joe’s the most wonderful guy, the usual crap you hear,” McCain says. “So I got up, I was the last guy, and I say: ‘I’m here to announce that I’m converting to Judaism. Because for all these years with Joe, I’ve had to eat that crappy salmon. I had to ride the damn Shabbat elevator. I’ve observed Shabbat to a point where I couldn’t even ride in a goddamn car. I’ve had all of the bull associated with this religion, and I’ve gotten not a single benefit. So I’m converting to Judaism.’ ”


Lieberman then stood up and announced that before McCain could convert, he must first have a proper bris. In the retelling, McCain pronounces it “brits” — which is how he pronounced it when he told me this story a week earlier.

Also in the article, Leibovich describes McCain’s experience as a POW in Vietnam.

In his book about five Naval Academy graduates, “The Nightingale’s Song,” the journalist Robert Timberg described what McCain looked like after two months of imprisonment — weighing less than 100 pounds, with collapsed cheeks and atrophied limbs. “His eyes, I’ll never forget,” McCain’s cellmate, Bud Day, told Timberg. “They were bug-eyed like you see in those pictures from the Jewish concentration camps. His eyes were real popeyed like that.”

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