Despite his losses in the Tuesday primaries, Bernie Sanders’s success so far in this race is groundbreaking. Sanders is notable not only for his performance as a democratic socialist, but also as the most successful Jewish presidential candidate in America’s history. No Jewish candidate had ever won a primary before, and Sanders has won nine.
However, many Jewish leaders are disappointed that Sanders has long kept his faith in the background of his campaign.
At the March 6 CNN Democratic Debate, Sanders said he was proud to be Jewish, remarking: “My father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical, and extremist politics mean.”
Sanders also recounted seeing numbers tattooed on survivors in his community. In his remarks, it almost appears that Sanders’s sole connection to Judaism is the Holocaust.
Sanders didn’t talk about how “tikkun olam,” the Jewish concept of repairing the world, might have inspired his social awareness, or about how working on a kibbutz in Israel inspired his democratic socialism. Instead, he connected to the Jewish experience at its most vulnerable point in history.
As Charles Krauthammer stated in his Mar. 10 column in the Washington Post: “I worry that a people with a 3,000-year history of creative genius, enriched by intimate relations with every culture from Paris to Patagonia, should be placing such weight on martyrdom.”
Sanders plays into a victimhood complex that does not fit the Jewish people of the 21st century. Despite anti-Semitism that still exists in many places in the world, Jews have risen to leadership in many fields and have revived a rich, lively culture in the State of Israel. Sanders entirely ignores all of this.
Considering how much Sanders has empowered voters to engage in a “political revolution”, I wish he could also form a meaningful connection with the Jewish people through social justice, Zionism or the other facets of Judaism. I wish, as a Jewish candidate, that Sanders could represent his rich heritage in a more holistic way, rather than deferring back to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Eitan Snyder is a sophomore majoring in music business.
Featured image courtesy Pixabay user hurk