Can an American politician who was born to Jewish parents just be an American politician who happens to be Jewish? Is Israel becoming less important in American politics?
NEW YORK — Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, won the Democratic primary in the state of New Hampshire on Tuesday night. Sanders, who identifies as a social democrat, is Jewish.
But when he spoke about his background in his victory speech he mentioned only that he was the son of Polish immigrants who were poor and little-educated, making it sound as though they might have been eating kielbasa and pierogi for Sunday lunch instead of challah and tsimmes for Friday night dinner.
He highlighted his own success as an illustration of the national narrative that Sanders called “the promise of America” — the idea that one should be able to achieve one’s goals based on hard work and merit.
“My friends,” said Sanders,
I am the son of a Polish immigrant who came to this country speaking no English and having no money. My father worked every day of his life and he never made a whole lot.
My mom and dad and brother and I lived in a three and a half room rent controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York. My mother, who died at a young age always dreamed of moving out of that apartment, getting a home of her own, but she never realized that dream. The truth is that neither one of my parents could ever have dreamed that I would be here tonight standing before you as a candidate for president of the United States.
This is the promise of America and this is the promise we must keep alive for future generations.
Several Jewish observers on social media were unhappy at Sanders’ failure to emphasize that his parents were Jews, and that he is now the first Jewish American to win a Democratic primary. (Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee in the 1964 election, had a Jewish father but was raised Episcopalian, although he acknowledged his Jewish heritage.)