It isn’t exactly a secret that Bernie Sanders, if nominated and elected, would be America’s first Jewish president, a milestone that once would have loomed large in American politics. But that factlet hasn’t attracted much comment on the campaign trail — until Sunday night’s Democratic debate, when, in response to a question from CNN moderator Anderson Cooper, Sanders opened up about his religion and his childhood in Brooklyn, at a time when it was not unusual to see neighbors with concentration-camp numbers tattooed on their forearms.
The exchange was prompted by a question from a Flint resident, Denise Ghattas, who asked Sanders if he thought “God is relevant.” Sanders, who probably mentions God less often than any candidate in recent American history, responded that “The answer is yes,” but managed to define “God” in a way that comports with his own secular, socialist views: “I think when we talk about God, whether it is Christianity, or Judaism or Islam or Buddhism, what we are talking about is what all religions hold dear. And that is to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.”
Cooper followed up by citing a recent newspaper article that he said claimed of Sanders that “you keep your Judaism in the background,” to the disappointment of some Jewish leaders.
“I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am,” Sanders replied. “Look, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical and extremist politics mean. I learned that lesson as a tiny, tiny child, when my mother would take me shopping, and we would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler’s concentration camp.
“I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being.”
Cover tile photo: Carlos Osorio/AP