Ex-governor Rendell ponders reconnecting to Jewish roots

Ed Rendell may be a private citizen once again, but don’t expect the 67-year-old Jewish former governor to sit around idly.

In fact, Rendell, who admittedly has never spent much time in synagogue but has expressed pride in his heritage, hinted he might even explore his Judaism a little more — if he has the time, that is.

“It’s interesting, my brother, who is a few years older, has become religious and subjected himself to religious training at an older age,” the second Jewish governor in Pennsylvania history said about Robert Rendell, a Texas lawyer.

“He’s done it. If I get the opportunity, I will. In the private sector, I’ve got a lot of ground to make up, and I fear that I won’t have the time,” Rendell said.

Rendell’s wife, federal judge Marjorie “Midge” Rendell, is Catholic, and his son, lawyer Jesse Rendell, was not brought up Jewish.

More likely, Rendell said, he would lend his name and time to certain favored Jewish causes, pointing out that as governor he helped raise funds for the new and improved National Museum of American Jewish History.

Rendell — who has said he won’t seek public office again — forcefully defended his two-term gubernatorial record that featured some major victories, as well as bruising budget and policy battles.

Regarding the Jewish communal agenda, Rendell said he was proud to sign into law a bill requiring state pension funds to divest holdings from firms doing business in Iran or Sudan.

Though historically he’s enjoyed overwhelming support within the Jewish community, he’s had his critics as well, particularly in his two terms as mayor of Philadelphia.

In 1997, he clashed with Jewish leaders over his decision to invite Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to the city.

“My obligation as mayor, I thought, preceded my obligation as a Jew, though I don’t take my obligations as a Jew lightly,” Rendell said, explaining that Farrakhan helped smooth over racial tension that had simmered in Philadelphia.

Rendell also stood by his 2007 decision to attend a fundraiser sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic  Relations, a controversial Muslim group — the same event keynoted by Rep. Joe Sestak that caused much flak during his campaigns, including Sestak’s latest failed run for senator.

The Democratic congressman’s appearance there became an oft-discussed issue in his race for the Senate. Two years after that dinner, the FBI, which used to cooperate with CAIR in its effort to better understand concerns in the Muslim community, cut ties to the group, citing unresolved questions over CAIR’s connections to Hamas.

“I don’t necessarily have a litmus test of 20 things you have to agree with me on before I listen to your concerns,” said Rendell. “Obviously, I don’t agree with everything that CAIR has done, but I still believe I have an obligation to engage them.”

His philosophy, essentially, is to talk to almost everybody.

“Does that mean I would extend it to Nazis?” he asked rhetorically. “No, obviously there is a line to be drawn.”