Both JFKs from Jewish Roots

LOS ANGELES (July 4, 2004) The Fourth International Conference on Diversity in Organisations and Nations hardly seems the place for a historical bombshell to fall about America’s famous Kennedy family. Organized by Australian academics, this year’s gathering in a leafy precinct of UCLA will bring together several hundred participants from all walks of life around the planet to present learned papers on themes ranging from Al Jazeera to Zee TV, from corporate diversity programs to Third World ethnic policy. Among the presenters is Donald Panther-Yates, a Georgia professor who owns a genetics consulting business and claims the Kennedy name in Ireland can be traced to Jewish ancestry in France.

The magazine Reform Judaism broke the story last fall that Sen. John Kerry, who has the same initials as the 35th president of the United States, had a Jewish paternal grandfather, Frederic Kerry, born in the tiny northeast Czech town of Horni Benesov as Fritz Kohn in 1873. Subsequently, a Czech historian traced Kerry’s lineage to the family of Rabbi Judah Loew (1525-1609), also known as the Maharal and creator of the Golem of Prague.

DNA testing and surname research, like politics, can produce some strange bedfellows, says Yates, who will conduct a workshop Tuesday on researching your ethnicity and mapping your family origins with DNA. Often the matches we find to a person’s genetic signature in world databases confirm oral traditions passed down in the family.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, for instance, told The Jewish Week in 1999 that though he was raised a Southern Baptist and later converted to Roman Catholicism, his father, Benjamin Kanne, an Orthodox Jewish lawyer and Democratic activist, was descended from a long line of rabbis, members of the priestly caste of Kohanim (Cohens).

DNA analyses have suggested that the Scottish Kennedys and their American descendents are likely of Sephardic Jewish ancestry from France, where their name was Canady. We propose their original name may have been Candiani — from Candy, the old name for the Turkish capital of Crete, says Panther-Yates. Genealogies of the Irish branch of Hyannisport, Massachusetts, do not go farther back than Patrick Kennedy, a prosperous farmer of Dunganstown, County Wexford, Ireland, who was born about 1785 and whose son emigrated to America. However, there is no reason to rule out a possible French origin before the family became Irish. Both Cassel (a sect of Clan Kennedy pointing to a region in southern France) and Canady appear on a list of refugee French Huguenots to Ireland.