(JTA) – Florida Republican Anna Paulina Luna beat a Jewish Democrat to represent her district in Congress last fall, but she had Jewish ancestry, too — or so she claimed at the time.
The freshman representative told Jewish Insider during her campaign that she was “a small fraction Ashkenazi,” in addition to having been “raised as a Messianic Jew by my father.” While mainstream Judaism does not consider Messianic Jews, who believe in the divinity of Jesus, to be Jewish, Luna’s additional claim of Ashkenazi heritage was of interest enough for her to use it to deflect accusations that her political ally, the far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, was antisemitic.
But that detail appears to be untrue, according to a Washington Post investigation into Luna’s biography published late last week. After speaking to members of Luna’s extended family and reviewing genealogical records, the Post determined that she does not have any apparent Ashkenazi background — and that her paternal grandfather, in fact, served in the armed forces of Nazi Germany.
If Luna indeed fabricated her Jewish heritage, she would be the second Republican freshman in Congress to have done so this term. New York Rep. George Santos attracted widespread scrutiny shortly after his election when it was revealed that he had made up large portions of his biography, including claims that he was Jewish and the descendant of a Holocaust survivor. Santos, who also had a social media history of appearing to praise Hitler, has thus far resisted calls to resign, including from within his own party.
Some Democratic groups and liberal columnists have already pounced on drawing comparisons between Luna and Santos, while the Jewish Democratic Council of America tweeted, “Republicans are increasingly using Jewish Americans, our community, and our history as political props.” Both candidates represent districts with significant Jewish populations.
It’s unclear whether Luna was consciously lying about her Jewish background or simply misinformed. Heinrich Mayerhofer, Luna’s grandfather, served in the Wehrmacht, the Nazi army, before immigrating to Canada in 1954, family members told the Post. They said his Nazi past was well known among relatives. The Post also found an old photo of Mayerhofer in a Wehrmacht uniform. He identified as Roman Catholic, and told family members he had had no choice but to serve the Nazis in order to survive.
His son George Mayerhofer, Luna’s father, was raised Catholic, according to members of Luna’s extended family from whom she has become estranged. But Luna said he followed Messianic Judaism and raised her with those beliefs. Her mother Monica Luna also told the Post that George, who struggled with addiction, “started attending a Messianic Jewish church in Orange County” after he got clean, and that Luna “buried him to Jewish customs” after he was killed last year in a car accident.
Luna’s office has called the Post’s story “comical” and said she was being targeted because “anyone who is a conservative minority is a threat to Leftist control.” The Post has already issued two corrections on the story concerning other elements of her biography, but not on her claims of Jewish heritage.
Meanwhile, a different Jewish Republican last week moved in the opposite direction of their identity journey, as candidate for Michigan GOP chair Lena Epstein announced that, while she had been raised Jewish, she was now “baptized” and considered herself a “Jewish Messianic believer of Christ.” Epstein still belongs to a Reform Jewish congregation in the Detroit area, according to the Forward; after her announcement, her rabbi wrote on Facebook in all-caps that “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MESSIANIC JUDAISM” and that people who use the term are “camouflaging their identity.”
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