Bernie Sanders: Our Jewish Brother

  • Bernie Sanders is a Jew who grew up in Brooklyn who found himself in politics.
  • His liberal socialist ideals are not Jewish or American.
  • He should support Israel like Trump.

Jews are in the news not only in World news but also in American politics. The elections in America are scheduled for November 2020 with President Trump running against a Democratic candidate who may be from his Jewish liberal opponents. One of these candidates may be Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of NY and successful businessman. Charles Schumer another important Jew in American politics has not showed interest in running for President but he is still young and may sometime become a Democratic Presidential candidate.

Chuck Schumer, Jewish Democratic Senator who is from the same neighborhood in which Bernie Sanders grew up: Flatbush Midwood Brooklyn.

Bernie Sanders has already been campaigning for the Democratic Party nomination for the 2020 US presidential election. Bernie Sanders is the US senator from Vermont elected in 2007, former US Representative from Vermont at large Congressional district from 1991- 2007 and Mayor of Burlington 1981-1989. Sanders has been able to fundraise the largest amount of money for any other candidate in the Democratic field. He claims to have reached 1,000,000 individual donors.

Sanders is called a progressive and self described democratic socialist. He was born in a working class Jewish family and raised in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. He attended Brooklyn College before graduating from the University of Chicago in 1964. While a student he was an active protest organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality as well as being active in the civil rights movement. After settling in Vermont in 1968 he entered politics and was elected as the Mayor of Burlington in 1981.

Originally from Brooklyn, a Jewish center in America, he found his way out of the Jewish community until today he has become involved in controversial issues involving Israel, the Jewish State.  His father was born in Austria-Hungary which is now called Poland and came to the US in 1921 at the age of 17 years old and became a paint salesman.

His mother was born in NYC to Jewish immigrant parents also from Poland. Sanders lived in the Midwood section of Brooklyn which was populated by many Jewish immigrants. He enjoyed sports, especially basketball. As was the custom, Jews who learned in public schools, their parents would send them to Hebrew school in the afternoon, until Bar Mitzva at the age of 13.

Most of the Jewish youth growing up in secular traditional Jewish homes after Bar Mitzva do not continue their Jewish education.  They may attend Orthodox Jewish Synagogues on some occasions like Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur the high holidays but not during the year. A Jewish boy after Bar Mitzva should wear Phylacteries each morning. Some families maintained a traditional Sabbath meal on Friday night where the husband would sanctify the Sabbath by reciting Kiddush on wine. In many of these families the father’s had to work on Saturday as a second job. Bernie Sanders grew up in a middle class family.  They always had food but some of their needs had to be supported by loans. They may have owned a house in Midwood area but many families continued to rent in rent control subsidized housing.

David Wexelman the author of this article receives a dollar and blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He grew up in a secular Jewish home in Brooklyn NY and lived in Flatbush Midwood section– the same neighborhood as Bernie Sanders– until moving to Israel in 1983. He comes from a very similar background as Bernie and understands the conflicts in cultures which Jewish youth have living in America.

The home in which Bernie Sanders grew up did not provide him with enough Jewish education, which at that time was considered expensive while public school education was free. Brooklyn College was also a free institution. Bernie, like many secular Jews growing up in a new land after immigrating from Europe, became in love with American society.

America is a nation which supports religion including Judaism. There is the opportunity in America to be Orthodox Jewish, even though Orthodox Jewry conflicts with American values.  America is the land of liberty and freedom while Orthodox religion is against freedom.  The Jewish youth faced this conflict growing up in America.

Bernie Sanders does not deny that he is Jewish but also does not accept his obligations as a Jew because he has become an American. If his parents would have chosen to immigrate to Israel, his family would probably have also become part of the democratic or socialist state of Israel.  In Israel life is also the conflict between freedom and democracy and Orthodox values.

During the campaign for the Presidential elections in 2016 Bernie Sanders, in an attempt to gain support from American Protestants, went to the Vatican for a blessing from the Pope. The daughter of President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner went to the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Jamiaca to pray for success. President Trump won the elections in 2020.

Bernie Sanders testifies that he is still a Jew but more an American than Israel supporter.  American Jews who may be reformed or conservative have this conflict.  The conflict is between values of importance.  Spirituality has split into two worlds which are Orthodox religion and progressive spiritual. The difference between the two is that Orthodox religion is also national minded while progressive spiritual is primarily universal. The world has become a small place and the need for World Unity and Peace is more important than ever especially after the Second World War.

Once the home was considered most important including education in the home.  The Vilna Gaon who lived in the 1700s in Europe made a statement which compares the two priorities between World Unity and Peace and peace in the home. He said that when parents fight in the home it is even worse than a World War. Judaism considers the home most important especially the education of their children in Jewish values. The secular mind, the humanitarian will not ignore the importance of World Unity and Peace in days of political conflicts. Democracy is a better vessel for World Peace than theocracy which is taught in Orthodox religion.

Bernie Sanders campaigning in Iowa.

Bernie Sanders and many Jewish youth growing up in Brooklyn were not able to ignore that times have changed. Judaism teaches that the Jewish world takes precedence over everything else. It denies that the Biblical Nation of Israel which was destroyed two thousand years ago is only a memory.  Many changes have taken place in the world since that time.  One of the changes is that Christianity and Islam have become the two major religions in the world.

The American youth have become exposed to Bhuddism and other Eastern religions which they have found to be authentic. Jewish law will not accept other religions which modern Jewry does accept.  In many ways Judaism gives more credit to Jews being atheists than believing in World Faith.

Coronavirus is affecting the world based in the Communist nation of China which suppresses religious values. Hitler and Stalin repressed religious values.  Orthodox religion looks negatively at the other side of spirituality even to condemn them as idolatry. In this way these national religious nations have been able to survive but today the world has two eyes national and universal.

Growing up also in Brooklyn, about the same time as Bernie Sanders, I can understand how today he has become a socialist liberal Democrat. Most Liberal Democratic Jews oppose Trump even though he has gone out of his way to help Israel. Trump has two eyes which are national American and Universal World peace through democracy.

Growing up in a secular traditional Jewish home like Bernie Sanders living part of my life in Midwood Flatbush, attending Brooklyn College graduating in 1971, I devoted myself to solving the conflict between freedom and religion. The answer for Jews is Progressive Jewish Spirituality.  The answer for the whole world is connecting religion with the world and democracy. Bernie Sanders is looked at as an enemy of Israel and religion; he has not intentionally changed his Jewish values and there is always hope for every Jew and every human being to reach the goal of peace in the world and in the home connected to perfect faith in God and the Messiah.

A Jew is born a Jew and usually gets circumcised on the eighth day. He is no longer a slave but a free man as was promised by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. God instructed Moses to tell Pharoah, Let my people Go. Bernie Sanders has found freedom but he and every human being still need religion.

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David Wexelman

Rabbi David Wexelman is the  author of five books on the topics of World Unity and Peace, and Progressive Jewish Spirituality. Rabbi Wexelman is a member of the American Friends of Maccabee, a charitable organization helping the poor in the United States and in Israel.  Donations are tax deductible in the USA.

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