We came home from LA last night and turned on CNN to see if the world had changed while we were flying across the country. Cuomo was hosting a town hall conversation with Bernie Sanders from Charleston, South Carolina. We tuned in somewhere in the middle so I didn’t hear all the questions but there were enough that were good and telling and I like the way Bernie answered many of them fairly directly and unapologetically. I think that distinguishes him from lots of the other candidates. That doesn’t mean I like all of his answers or think he is “smart” to insist on using the word “socialist” in his description of himself as a democratic socialist. But you “gotta” admire his grit.
But there was one response to a question from a Jewish student that bothered me as much as some of his other answers. He was asked about his Jewish identity and what it means for him to be Jewish. I do not doubt the authenticity of his answer which was Holocaust based. He remembered growing up in a neighborhood where people had tattoos on their arms. He recounts that his father’s family was wiped out by Hitler and when “my brother and I, and our wives, went to Poland to the town he was born in. He fled terrible poverty and antisemitism. The people in town, very nice people, took us to a place where the Nazis had the Jewish people dig a grave and shot them all; 300 people in there….”
It isn’t that he was profoundly affected by the Holocaust. There is barely a Jew who consciously or unconsciously isn’t. For me, it is that Jewish identity can’t be linked to Auschwitz and death alone. I wanted to hear about values and principles that are informed by Judaism and the Jewish experience. I wanted to hear about a vision and a dream that was primed by a Jewish engine that would look forward and not backwards. I guess it’s the Rabbi thing in me.
That doesn’t mean I don’t admire him. It also doesn’t mean that I have decided to vote for him either (but I will have to make up my mind fairly soon as my mail in Florida ballot is sitting on my desk). His recent tweet about AIPAC is terribly disturbing. He writes that “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason, I will not attend their conference.”
Sad. Disturbing. Painful. Palestinians deserve to live in peace and security. True! Israelis deserve to live in peace and security. True! But not attending an AIPAC Conference as a leader of the Democratic party sends a terrible message. According to AIPAC leadership he has never attended an AIPAC Conference. One wonders how committed he is to a viable Israel. One wonders (and this is terrible) what he learned standing at the grave of 300 Jews in his father’s Polish town. Go to the conference Bernie.