I don’t believe being Jewish is a complication in the mind of Bernie Sanders. If anything I believe it to be a non-factor. What it does do however is bring to the forefront the complications facing the Jewish community and very possibly one of the root causes of anti-Semitism.
So you have this 74 year old Jewish man from Brooklyn, a man who may or may not wind up being a serious candidate for President, fresh off the first victory ever by a Jewish American in a presidential primary. It may not have ultimate significance- I jokingly say how the only think Bernie Sanders won was the presidency of New Hampshire-but whether he goes on to become the Democratic nominee, the President, or just slowly fades into the sunset, the fact that he is Jewish is history, and matters to many. However, it also seems to not matter to many and that catches my attention.
I recently said that if just once I would hear Bernie Sanders take some pride in being Jewish I might even take a closer look at him. Then it dawned on me. Is that attitude of mine indirectly one of the motivators for those who do not like Jews? There are many communities that want nothing else than to be seen as American only. Recently before the Super Bowl, Carolina Panther coach Ron Rivera spoke about how he would rather be seen as a successful coach than a successful Latino coach. If the fact that Barack Obama’s is a man of color had never become a big issue, no one today could ever say that dislike for him is based on race. Yet here I am, and I assume I am not alone, a Jewish man, turned off by Bernie Sanders not bringing attention to the fact that he is Jewish. I watch the Republican debates and take notice of the fact that no one mentions Israel more than Ted Cruz. I get a little excited about the fact that front runner Donald Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism and that Hillary Clinton’s daughter married a Jewish man. But when it comes to the Jewish thing, I have no overwhelming glee or enthusiasm over the fact that Bernie Sanders is Jewish. Why? Because he doesn’t seem to either.
So going back to the anti-Semitism issue, is it possible that my attitude, an attitude that openly shows pleasure when Jews distinguish themselves, and the desire to, in some way at least, see my Jewishness as a club I am excited to be part of, cultivate a hatred of Jews? Possibly. I know I am not alone. Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah songs alone are almost enough to prove it. I am sure many who are not Jewish enjoy them, but let’s face it, it’s extra fun for us Jews when we find out Captain Kirk or Scarlett Johannson are part of the tribe.
I can’t say I don’t respect on some level the approach that says, like me and admire me for my accomplishments as a person first, and vote for me or not as an American regardless of my background, but I also believe there’s nothing wrong in a little pride in where you come from. Especially when the lack of emphasis may be more politically motivated than philosophically motivated. If going into the primaries in New York or other states with larger Jewish populations Bernie speaks more openly about being Jewish, I dare say we’ll have our answer. In the meantime I hope that I hear him say he is Jewish at least once. Not because it would make me vote for him, but admittedly because I prefer fellow Jews who are proud of their heritage, and then I can get at least somewhat excited about the current President of New Hampshire.
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