Is it a bad thing that Bernie Sanders doesn’t like to talk about being Jewish? Is that more or less bad than white people who don’t celebrate their white identity?
One Jew emails me:
Sanders is an appalling embarrassment, the worst kind of shonda fur de goyim. I love his Polish identity: I wonder whether he’d have helped his fellow “Poles” burn the Jews at Jebwabne. His Polish identification makes him worse than an “Uncle Tom.” He would be an “Uncle Bedford Forrest.”” Sick.
Is it sick for a Jew to not be out and proud and talky about his Jewish identity? I don’t think so.
There’s no inherent reason for race and religion to be a person’s primary identity.
Is it important that Catholics put their Catholicism before their Americanism? Is it important that American Jews are first loyal to their Jewish identity? Should American whites be white first? Should American Muslims be Muslim first? Should blacks be black first before American?
To identify as a Jew does not mean you must put your Jewish identity first.
In many European countries, their Jewish citizens have historically been regarded as primarily Jews, not as fellow citizens. Russian Jews in Russia are not regarded as Russian so much as Jewish. French Jews in France are not regarded as French as much as Jewish.
If Jews are regarded as separate, then they are not likely to be much liked, for even angels don’t like strangers (Mark Twain).
If you are a man of the left, then you don’t put much importance on religious and racial identity. Marxism is about the determinacy of economic relations, not religious and racial relations. Jews on the left who are more leftist than Jewish don’t put great stock on ethnic and religious identity. Bernie Sanders, like Max Blumenthal, is a man of the left, and hence ethno-nationalism makes him uncomfortable.
When Senator Bernie Sanders thanked supporters for his landslide victory in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, he wistfully reminisced about his upbringing as “the son of a Polish immigrant who came to this country speaking no English and having no money.”
While the crowd cheered, Rabbi Michael Paley of New York was among many Jews watching the speech who were taken aback. He said he was surprised that the Vermont senator had not explicitly described his father as a “Polish Jewish immigrant,” a significant distinction given Poland’s checkered history with its Jewish population.
“Nobody in Poland would have considered Bernie a Pole,” Rabbi Paley said.
Two days later, in a debate with Hillary Clinton, Mr. Sanders referred to the historic candidacy of “somebody with my background” without overtly saying he was Jewish. That prompted the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a news service feeding the Jewish press worldwide, to ponder, as its headline put it, “People are confused why Bernie Sanders won’t own his Jewishness.”
Mr. Sanders, those who know him say, exemplifies a distinct strain of Jewish identity, a secular offshoot at least 150 years old whose adherents in the shtetls of Eastern Europe and the jostling streets of the Lower East Side were socialists, anarchists, radicals and union organizers focused less on observance than on economic justice and repairing a broken world. Indeed, he seems more comfortable speaking about Pope Francis, whose views on income inequality he admires, than about his own religious beliefs.
Rabbi Paley, who worked with Jews in central Vermont when he was a Dartmouth College chaplain, recalled once talking with Mr. Sanders about “non-Jewish Jews,” a term coined by a leftist biographer, Isaac Deutscher, to describe those who express Jewish values through their “solidarity with the persecuted.” Mr. Sanders seemed to acknowledge that the term described him, Rabbi Paley said.
But the secular image that Mr. Sanders casts is also complicating the way American Jews regard the historic nature of his candidacy.
When Joseph I. Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who spurned campaigning on the Sabbath, was Al Gore’s vice-presidential running mate in 2000, many Jewish voters saw it as a breakthrough. While Mr. Sanders’s surprising run for even higher office is eliciting many strong emotions, religious pride is usually not the main one.
“Joe was an observant Jew; Bernie is marginal,” said Morris Harary, a lawyer who lives near Mr. Sanders’s childhood home in Brooklyn. As a history maker, he said, Mr. Lieberman was “much more of a big deal.”
Growing up in Midwood in the 1940s and ’50s, Mr. Sanders, who declined to be interviewed for this article, had a not atypical Jewish upbringing. His father, Eli, who sold paint to hardware stores, showed up at a synagogue virtually only on Yom Kippur, Mr. Sanders’s brother, Larry Sanders, said in an interview from England, where he is the health issues spokesman for the Green Party.