As the next presidential election approaches, I face a serious dilemma.
Many of Bernie Sanders’ positions resonate with me, but I am loath to vote for him because—and I say this with trepidation—I consider him a self-hating Jew.
I know that is a serious charge, one I have thought long and hard about before taking public.
Now, I believe in freedom of religion, and I know there are many wonderful people who are—as Sanders claims to be–non-observant Jews. But there is a difference between “non-observance” and what we call in Hebrew zilzul, “public contempt” on the other.
When on the Eve of Rosh Hashanah, the sacred day of the Jewish New Year, Bernie Sanders spurns an invitation to speak in a synagogue for a regular political rally, that is zilzul!
When Bernie Sanders chooses to spend the morning of Rosh Hashanah not addressing any of the hundreds of throngs of synagogue crowds that would have loved to hear him but to speak at the fundamentalist Christian bastion, Liberty University, that is a gesture of Jewish self-abnegation that I find odious.
As a rabbi, I cannot deny I would be happy to see a Jew in the White House (although I will never vote for any candidate whom I do not think is the best candidate because he or she is Jewish).
But as a rabbi, I cannot support Bernie Sanders because he shows the world downright contempt for the precious heritage from which spring the social values that he espouses.
Public displays of Mr. Sanders’ self-hatred as a Jew are not new. Go back to 1988 and watch the long video below of him expressing his unqualified and enthusiastic support of Jesse Jackson for president.
After Rev. Jackson called New York City “Hymietown,” I believed then, and I believe now that only a self-hating Jew could endorse his candidacy for the White House.
But it gets worse
Asked at about 19:40 on the video, if there is anything Mr. Sanders did not like about Jesse Jackson, Mr. Sanders responded with yet another long encomium. Only when pressed (at 21:35) does Mr. Sanders—with visible reluctance–acknowledge that Rev. Jackson’s “Hymietown” comment was “an unacceptable statement.”
As an American, I take seriously my right— and what I believe is my obligation—to vote. So if I stand in the booth on Election Day and Bernie Sanders is the least undesirable choice before me, I will vote for him. Bu if I do so, it will be with the same reluctance with which Mr. Sanders called “Hymietown,” ”an unacceptable statement.”
15 thoughts on “Why I am Loath to Vote for Bernie Sanders”
Well said Rabbi. This year I’d love to see a “none of the above” option.
Thank you, Kati! The problem is somebody has got be president!
Thank you for making your feelings public. I did not know this about Mr. Sanders. I would like to say more, but I have to digest this first. Being non-observant is not a problem for me, but actually turning his back to fellow Jews and speaking to a different religious group on Rosh Hashanna is a slap in the face. Troublesome to say the least.
Thanks for this, Rabbi. I wondered about your take on Ol’ Bernie. I was thinking of voting for him but not anymore.
I worked for Senator Bernie Sanders when he was mayor of Burlington for six years. I’ve known Bernie for over 30 years and to say he’s a self hating Jew is preposterous! He’s a man of steadfast principle that cares about, and has fought for the average citizen, and all the low-income people in our community. The reason I went to work for him was partially based on the teachings of Rabbi Sidney Ballon, my rabbi growing up. We learned in Temple to look after the unfortunate and Bernie has made this his life’s mission, and has worked tirelessly to do just that. Like many Jewish people, Bernie lost most of his family in the Nazi concentration camps, I believe three uncles. Not like many Jewish people from United States, Bernie went to live in a Kibbutz after college. He also was bar mitzvahed. Why don’t you Google the Townmeeting that Bernie organized in Cabot Vermont and listen to the diatribes that he had to put up with and listen to his response. If you’re still in doubt, contact Richard Sugarman, Professor of Jewish philosophy at the University of Vermont. Professor Sugarman’s fields are phenomenology, Jewish philosophy, existentialism, and the humanities, ancient and modern. Also, if you want to read numerous fantastic sermons by Rabbi Ballon go online and look up the blog My Father’s Words that his son has posted.
Bruce, I will make these my last words to you on this subject:
I welcome your dissent and welcome you to oppose my perspective even though it is my blog, and I control the comments that are posted here just as you control comments on your blog or web site.
I welcome you, though, because that is the American way. I will clarify for you one more time:
Mr. Sanders own actions and his own statements indict him, not me. Would Blacks support a Jew who used the N word? Of course not. But Mr Sanders was an ardent (and ardent is an understatement) supporter of a man who used an equally vile slur, not once but twice, against Jews.
Again, Bruce, you have a right to disagree. Many do.
My father-in-law, of blessed memory, was a non-observant Jew. But he would never show the public disdain—as Mr. Sanders has done—for other Jews or the Jewish religion by going to work on the Holy Days. For Mr. Sanders (with such a high public profile) his choice—not my words—to go on the stump and to Liberty University, of all places, on Rosh Hashanah, make the case for me that he is a self-hating Jew. It is a case that neither you, Professor Sugarcane nor anyone else can refute to my satisfaction.
Thank you again for sharing your dissenting view with my readers.
You really need to do more homework on the subject, I am not the type to argue politics but I can say I am very surprised at your lack of knowledge on Bernie. To the women up above that mentioned she was wondering who to vote for,and now you changed her mind? I hope she will do her own research instead of allowing you to sway her opinion. Unless shes your daughter, then maybe she has no option.
Calvin, your comment does not at all reflect that you have read and considered seriously the evidence I present in my essay or in the video that I have provided for anyone to see Mr. Sanders’ self-abnegation. Indeed your comment has the feel of an ad hominem attack. These are not welcome on my blog.
Bernie’s overlooking of Jesse’s comment tells me a lot about his character. When I heard Jessie’s comment it was really troubling especially coming from someone of color. It was reflective of what he was really thinking, again troubling. You can’t apologize for these type of comments, you have to change how you think and act. My reaction at the time was I’m done with Jesse. As for Bernie, I disagree with him on many things and now can add a lack of character, something new to the equation. People can change and show by their actions that they have changed. There is always hope but…
Mr. Sanders rejection of AIPAC’s nitration confirms for me the things I wrote in my original essay.
Of course everyone in a democracy has the right to their views and to couch it in any use of terms that they want but I believe your use of loaded terms is a form of Newspeak.Self hating Jew?That is a loaded term and you know it.Senator Sanders is a non observant Jew ,he does not observe any Jewish rituals or holidays. To my knowledge he has never attended a Jewish service as an adult .When the Hymietown event occurred I spoke to a much older Jewish professional and both of us were bewildered that we had never heard the term before.Does it rise to the level of Jewboy or N word? I doubt it even comes up to Schwartza or Shiksha but we tolerate that so much in our community.As arabbi I would love all Jews to be observant but I certainly do not expect it.Was Paul Wellstone an observant Jew ?No but I would argue he was one of the best examples of a Jew living prophetic Judaism in the flesh.That is why I think you really do abhore Bernie.Rather then being a vanilla Jew he lives Jewish ideals. All to often we would rather Jewish people just go through the motions and not do righteousness.
Dear Rabbi Zylberberg,
Thank you for your response.
To me there is a HUGE difference between being a “non-observant Jew” and a Jewish public figure to show zilzul for Judaism. When Mr. Sanders eschewed many invitations to speak in synagogues on Rosh Hashana in favor of a run of the mill political rally and a trip to (I still can’t believe he did this) to Liberty University, home of a point of view that has Jews and other non-believers on our way to hell, that Rabbi Zylberberg, is zilzul.And I find it disgraceful.
As far as “Hymietown” goes, I am not an expert in various degrees of slurs, but for sure it was just that. And Mr. Sanders’ fawning support for Jesse Jackson in light of that is disturbing to me. Of course you have every right to think it is inconsequential.
And what’s this about his reluctance to name the kibbutz where he spent a summer? And what about being the ONLY presidential candidate not to make time in his busy campaign schedule for AIPAC? My goodness!
You are free, Rabbi Zylberberg (as you point out) to not care about any of this. I do. And to me Bernie Sanders is a self-hating Jew.
If, for argument sake, we would take zilzul to mean contempt then Senator Sanders clearly does not have contempt for Judaism. Quite the contrary; he embodies it in his public , eloquent statements standing up for the disadvantaged in our society. Jewish ritual practice plays no part in his life. He, like Obama, is trying to reach out beyond identity politics. As you may know early on in Sanders’ campaign Diane Rheims of NPR told him rather pointedly on the air that he was a dual citizen and he had to go round and round with her denying it. Obama has had to deal with issues like this for eight years. Is Obama a real American or is he the President of Black America or a… Muslim? You may discount this but it has been the static that has been our daily bread for years. As I said before I would want ALL Jews to be observant even my congregants but if we are honest we know that is not the case. So what purpose does it make other then cheap shots for us to turn Sanders into the Haman that we can burn? Perhaps his ideas are the real rub?
P.S. AIPAC? Bibi and Romney could teleconference in for their speeches in the past ,THAT BAD JEW was not allowed to
Really, Rabbi Zylberberg, I find your attempts to defend Mr. Sanders quite lame. This year AIPAC had new rules: No video speeches from candidates. So please don’t compare him to the Prime Minister of Israel. Don’t compare him the 2012 rules. The 2016 rules for ALL presidential candidates was a gracious invitation to show up in person. Only Mr. Sanders did not accept. I find that VERY sad.
But now, Rabbi, I am afraid we must agree to disagree. What I call zilzul, you call irrelevant indifference.
I have stated my case as clearly as I can. You do not accept it. That is your privilege. You have also had ample opportunity to convince me I am wrong. You have not. I guess we have to leave it there. Thank you so much for taking time to share your views with my readers.
Rabbi … I applaud your candor and courage.Bernie will never get my vote… no matter who the other choices are . Your observations have been concerning to me from the start.Thank you for for confirming what I always believed to be true.Bernie is not a friend to the Jewish people.