One summer in the early 1980s, Shaun Donovan and his sister Justine – both high school students at the time – traveled to Eastern Europe to visit the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. For Donovan, now a candidate for mayor of New York in the June 22 Democratic primaries, visiting the historic sites had a special meaning.
Donovan’s father, Michael, was born in Panama to an Ashkenazi Jewish mother whose family originated from Europe. Michael later came to the U.S. in his 20s where he met his wife Linda and settled in New York City as a pioneer in the computer engineering industry. But while he was not raised Jewish, his children grew up in a more Jewish environment: the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
“I would say that I grew up, in many ways, more Jewish than Christian,” Donovan, one of four siblings, said in a recent interview on Zoom.
While learning at the Dalton School, an elite private prep school where more than three quarters of the students were Jewish, Donovan became more familiar with Judaism. “By the time I went to college, I had spent more time in temple than in church,” Donovan recalled. “All of our closest friends growing up, or nearly all of them, were Jewish and we were part of their families at Passover Seders. All my Friday night sleepovers ended up in synagogue.”