2016-02-17 / Editorial

Sanders’ run for presidency achieves Jewish milestone


Bernie Sanders has made history as the first Jew to win a presidential primary. After his decisive victory in the New Hampshire Democratic race, it is becoming more and more apparent that the Vermont Senator is a credible contender for White House occupancy.

But what’s most remarkable of all is how little his Jewishness plays into either his popularity or disapproval.

While Sanders was raised Jewish and even spent time on an Israeli kibbutz in the 1960s, he doesn’t go out of this way to highlight his Jewish background, nor have his supporters or opponents made it an issue. The Jewish community has not rallied around him, nor has there been, until recently, any Jewish groundswell of public pride or anxiety over his insurgency campaign.

There seems to be several phenomena at play here. Sanders’ disconnect with communal Jewry, while espousing a more general spirituality, seems to resonate with millennials, a group that as a whole is also less likely to be involved in organized religion. (He is winning young people by an overwhelming margin: 84 percent of those under 30, according to some polls.)

If Sanders’ Jewishness is not an issue, perhaps it’s also because Jews are so well integrated into contemporary American life. This was not as much the case when the more observant Senator Joseph Lieberman ran on the Democratic ticket 16 years ago.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 10 percent of Americans are less likely to vote for a Jew for president, compared to 20 percent who said they were less likely to vote for an evangelical Christian.

Moreover, Sanders is not the only presidential hopeful with intimate Jewish ties. His rival for the Democratic nomination has a Jewish son-in-law. The winner of New Hampshire’s Republican primary, Donald Trump, has a daughter who converted to Judaism and goes to an Orthodox synagogue.

This is indeed kvell-worthy news, even if the remarkable part is how unremarkable Jewishness comes into play. .

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