Kerrys brother says first trip to Israel makes it closer, more vivid

tsur natan, israel | His sneakers crunching under a stony path, Cameron Kerry made his way to an overlook and saw Israel’s security fence slice between the slopes of two villages — one Israeli, the other Palestinian.

The brother of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry looked on as a guide showed him where they were on the map of the country — on the easternmost edge of the pre-1967 borders of the Jewish state, which at its narrowest measures only 10 miles across.

“Seeing it for real makes it clearer, closer, more vivid,” Cameron Kerry said as he traveled in a minibus from Tel Aviv to the northern border. “One of the things when you come here for the first time: You notice how close together everything is, from hilltop to hilltop, village to village.” Last week’s visit was his first to Israel.

Cameron Kerry grew up Catholic, but converted to Judaism when he married Kathy Weinman, a Jewish attorney he met while the two worked at a Washington law firm. She traveled with her husband to Israel and recalled the very different trip she first took there — backpacking across the country after college in 1976.

It was revealed last year that the Kerry family has Jewish roots in Europe. Their paternal grandparents were Jews from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire who changed the family name from Kohn to Kerry before immigrating to the United States in the early 20th century.

There is just a feeling of “an extraordinary sense of irony,” he said of the revelation. “I called up Kathy’s parents and said ‘I’m Jewish,’ and they said, ‘Yeah we know’ and I said, ‘No, I’m really Jewish.'”

Cameron Kerry has taken a leave of absence from his law firm in Boston to help advise and campaign for his brother.

During the trip, sponsored by a branch of AIPAC-American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Cameron Kerry and Weinman traveled with Jay Footlik, the Kerry campaign’s Jewish senior adviser on Middle East and Jewish affairs.

In Israel, Cameron Kerry was the first in his family to see the Nazi rosters that showed the deportations of his great-aunt and great-uncle, Otto and Jenny Lowe, to Theresienstadt. One died there; the other died after being transported to Treblinka. Both were siblings of his paternal grandmother.

Cameron Kerry said he became especially curious about visiting Israel after hearing about travels to the region made by his brother. “John has been here many times and one of the reasons I have wanted to come is that he’s talked so vividly about his experiences here and about his own connections. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

He said he will tell his teenage daughters they “have to come.’