When You Call Bernie Sanders a White Man, You Erase His Jewishness

“This primary is down to two old white men.” Every time I hear those words, a piece of myself — my Jewish identity— shrinks away from the light just a little bit more.

When you brush away Bernie’s Jewishness, you tell me mine is unimportant as well. You tell me I can’t trust you with all the parts of me.

Look, I get it. A lot of people are mourning Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy. We’ve waited so long for a woman president, and it hurts to know it won’t happen this election. We started out with such a diverse group, but now the candidates of color are gone, as well as the gay candidate. Tulsi Gabbard’s still technically running, but excluded from the next debate.

But here’s the thing: With our support, Bernie Sanders could still win this. He could be our most progressive president yet. And for the first time in American history, we could have a Jewish president.

If Bernie Sanders becomes president, it will be no small thing. My Jewish child and all the other non-Christians would get to see you don’t need to be a Christian to lead our country.

How do people not see how huge this is? To me, the possibility feels momentous, hardly believable. It defies every exclusionary thing I grew up feeling, tells the little Jewish girl in me that anything is possible.

So every time I hear “This primary is just a choice between two old white men” — every time I see Bernie’s Jewishness erased — I feel you erasing an important part of me as well.

When I first saw the Jews for Bernie video (below), I bawled. I felt seen. I felt represented. I felt hopeful.

The Jews for Bernie video begins with a group of Bernie supporters observing havdalah, then Julia Davidovitz, a teary-eyed Bernie 2020 field organizer, says exactly what I’m feeling:

“I think it’s so important that Jews come together for Bernie because he is living our Jewish values. It hurts so badly when people try to erase Bernie’s Jewish identity, because it looks a lot like mine.”

His Jewishness looks like mine as well: a commitment to social justice — to tikkun olam, to tzedakah, to peace in the Middle East with justice for Jews, Palestinians, and everyone else.

Vote for Bernie Sanders because of his lifelong history of fighting for equal rights; and his policy plans to achieve economic, racial, social, and environmental justice for all.

Immediately, I wanted to share the Jews for Bernie video on my social media, but I was afraid. Yes, I was afraid of random antisemitic comments from white supremacists. But I was also afraid of comments from the sort of white liberals who claim, “I don’t see color,” who turn their noses up at the suggestion of “identity politics.”

Because Bernie isn’t trying to use his identity to win — His campaign slogan is “Not me. Us.” — he doesn’t talk much about his Jewishness. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Most of Sanders’ father’s family was murdered during the Holocaust. Yes, Sanders calls himself white, but like me, he grew up with both the burden and the beauty of Jewishness.

He calls himself white, because he understands the many ways he benefits from white privilege. He understands — and I do as well — that Black, Brown, and Indigenous folx experience institutionalized racism in huge ways we Jews do not.

So I don’t mention Bernie Sander’s Judaism, or mine, to play the victim here. When I tell you I grew up seeing myself as non-white — as Jewish, as Other — I don’t mean to equate what Jews have gone through with what any other minority has experienced. It’s not about that.

My Jewishness is not the same as someone else’s Blackness. But Jewishness is not nothing. My past, my future, my identity, are different because I am a Jew. Resilience in the face of antisemitism is universal to the Jewish experience — to my experience, to Bernie Sanders’ experience.

So don’t tell me Bernie Sanders is just another old white man.

Thursday, someone unfurled a Nazi flag at a Bernie Sanders rally. With the swastika on display behind Sanders, the person did a Nazi salute and yelled “Heil Hitler!” After being kicked out, the same person yelled the N-word at a Bernie supporter. The Anti-Defamation League identified the man as a white supremacist who “harassed a range of Jewish and Muslim organizations and events.”

Bernie Sanders understands our struggles are connected. Equality means equality for all of us, and the white supremacists do not limit their hate to one minority.

Look, the Jews for Bernie video speaks to me, but I do not speak for all Jews. Many Jews want to downplay their Jewishness, either because it genuinely doesn’t feel like a big part of their identity, or because history taught them assimilation is the path to safety. The threat of genocide is always looming. We know we may not be safe if we imply our Jewishness could ever come before our nationality.

Bernie’s Jewishness, while groundbreaking for a possible Democratic nominee, is of course not the reason to vote for him. Vote for Bernie Sanders because of his lifelong history of fighting for equal rights; and his policy plans to achieve economic, racial, social, and environmental justice for all.

Someday we’ll have a woman of color for our president. We’ll have an LGBTQ president who’s proud to be out. We’ll have a Dreamer president. There will be so many magnificent firsts for our diverse country.

The path forward now, to that beautiful future, is with our first ever Jewish president, with Bernie Sanders, the progressive candidate who insists, “Not me. Us.” All of us.

Empathy for the win! Published in Gen, Human Parts, Heated, Tenderly —Feminism, Sexuality, Veganism, Anti-Racism, Parenting. She/They darcyreeder.substack.com

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