Sen. Bernie Sanders may have lost Iowa by a hair but he made history last night.
Sanders is now the first Jewish candidate to win delegates in a presidential contest. By getting nearly half the vote, he earned 21 delegates, compared with 22 for Hillary Clinton.
While Clinton and her supporters have made much of the possibility that she could be the first woman president, few have focused on the notion that Sanders would be the first Jewish one.
For voters from Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders’ Jewish heritage might not mean much. But for many of us in New York, Sanders’ march through Iowa and New Hampshire is about far more than poll numbers and how to solve income inequality.
After all, Sanders’ quintessential story resonates deeply with many a Jewish New Yorker. His father emigrated from Poland when he was just 17 – and lost much of his family to the Holocaust. Sanders was raised in a small apartment in Brooklyn. As an adult, Sanders, by all accounts, is a secular Jew – who isn’t religious but still identifies as Jewish.
It’s a familiar tale, and for many New Yorkers, that’s enough. They’re watching Sanders’ rise with interest, pride, and excitement. Around the dinner table, in synagogue sermons and conversations after services, and in localized chatter on social media, the conversation has turned to Sanders’ religious background, his views on religion, and, in particular, the State of Israel.
But then it gets complicated. Sanders himself doesn’t speak of religion often. Observers note that he volunteered at an Israeli kibbutz after college, but has never even said which one, leaving some to try to figure it out. So far, no one has.
And Sanders’ views on Israel muddy the waters, too. He’s supportive of Israel, but believes in a two-state solution in the Middle East, and, at times, has been critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yet, even with those complexities, there’s something about Sanders that Jewish New Yorkers see in themselves, their parents, or their grandparents.
It’s not just the Larry David-style Brooklyn accent or the rumpled look. It’s a deeper pride that comes with watching one of our own succeed, and, perhaps, break through a different kind of glass ceiling.
This appeared in The Point, the editorial board's daily newsletter for insiders. To subscribe, click here.