Michael Pence, the Vice President-elect, is a long-time ardent supporter of Israel, but it turns out that his connection to the Holy Land goes deeper than even he knows: the Evangelical Christian from Indiana has Orthodox Jewish relatives, one of whom lives in the Golan Heights and is eager to meet his cousin.
The genealogical connection centers around Tamsen (Tammy) Socher, a Jewish grandmother living in West Los Angeles. She spent most of her life in the San Fernando Valley, but when she moved to Ohio, eight years ago, she felt a need to maintain a connection to her family and became interested in genealogy. Her search quickly led her to a relative, Richard Pence, an amateur genealogist. She was impressed by his work.
“Some people just want to fill in the blanks, but Richard really worked hard at getting it right,” Tammy said in an interview with Breaking Israel News. Tammy realized that Pence was not a common name. “It doesn’t really come from England. It was one of those made-up Ellis Island names, so we are all connected. I haven’t met a ‘Pence’ yet who wasn’t a relative.”
Most of her family was from Indiana, so Tammy asked Richard if Michael Pence, then an Indiana congressman, was a relative. Richard, who is now deceased, answered that the Michael Pence was indeed her fourth cousin on her father’s side. Tammy tried to contact Pence at the time but was unsuccessful.
The Vice president-elect is aware of this family connection. When he was on the campaign trail, Tammy’s cousin Merrill Socher-Axelrod, an Israeli citizen living in Michigan, went to a campaign event. Michael Pence showed up late but Merrill hurried to be photographed with her famous relative. When she stood next to him, she told him quickly, “You have Orthodox Jewish cousins in Israel. Here is some family lineage. Your cousins are my cousins.”
She handed him a letter from Tammy describing the family connection. It noted that several of his relatives are religious Jews, and at least one lives in Israel. Included in the information was a personal invitation from Tammy’s son, Jesse, inviting his vice-presidential cousin to come visit him in his Golan home the next time Pence is in Israel.
Jesse Socher told Breaking Israel News that his invitation was sincere.
“I know he probably won’t take me up on it, but I support him and he seems like a nice guy,” Socher said. “If he comes to Israel, I would love to get together.”
Jesse is realistic about the significance of this family connection. “When it comes to making political decisions, I doubt that it makes a difference to him that he has family in the Golan. But it does say a lot about how interconnected Israel and America are.”
Pence has visited Israel several times and has referred to Israel as “America’s most cherished ally.” In 2014, he headed a high-level business delegation from his state on a visit to Israel sponsored by Christians United for Israel.
In 2016, he signed into law a bill which would ban Indiana from having any commercial dealings with companies that boycotts Israel. Pence has also said that he opposes a Palestinian state. Quoted as saying he was “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” his support for Israel is more based on ideology than politics.
In an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2009, Pence assured the audience, “Let me say emphatically, like the overwhelming majority of my constituents, my Christian faith compels me to cherish the State of Israel.”