The following exchange took place between Anderson Cooper of CNN and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the March debate in Flint, Michigan:
Cooper: “Senator Sanders, are you intentionally keeping your Jewish faith in the background during your campaign?”
Sanders: “I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am. 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 camps. I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being.”
Once again we are in presidential election season. The candidates are, each in their own way, projecting what they want the electorate to know about their faith. We Americans are used to this quadrennial exercise. This election cycle, however, is exceptional.
Senator Bernie Sanders has advanced further in the presidential campaign than any other Jewish citizen before him. (In 2000, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut was the vice presidential candidate on Al Gore’s ticket.) Some have commented on how little has been made—and how little Sanders has made—of his Jewishness. Yet many others are trying to understand the relationship of Judaism and Jewishness to Sanders and the positions he advocates. Judaism, and membership in the Jewish people, fit no category of faith and religion familiar to most Christians. Ironically, Sanders’ own untraditional relationship to his faith and faith community actually presents ...1