WASHINGTON (JTA) — Asked whether his Jewish identity would be “a help or a hindrance” as he runs for president, Bernie Sanders said that his Jewishness is one of the two main factors that shaped his outlook.
The Vermont senator, appearing on a CNN town hall for Democratic presidential candidates broadcast Thursday from New Hampshire, was asked by a local woman about his Jewish identity.
“It impacts me very profoundly,” he said. “When I try to think about the views that I came to hold there are two factors. One I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money … and the second one is being Jewish.”
Sanders recalled as a child reading “big picture books of World War II” and “tears would roll down my cheeks” when he saw what happened to Jews.
“At a very early age, even before my political thoughts were developed, I was aware of the horrible things that human beings can do to other people in the name of racism or white nationalism, or in this case Nazism,” said Sanders, who also recalled seeing Holocaust survivors in his Brooklyn neighborhood with numbers tattooed on their arms, and a recent visit to his father’s hometown in Poland, where locals took him and his brother to a site where Nazis committed a mass murder of Jews.
Much of Sanders’ extended family perished in the Holocaust.
He said the experiences shaped his views particularly in opposing President Donald Trump and the “divisiveness” that he said Trump promoted.
Sanders, 78, was long reluctant to discuss his Jewish upbringing but began to open up well into his 2016 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination when he became the first Jewish candidate to win major-party nominating contests.
He has made his Jewish identity a central factor of his 2020 campaign, although he has also drawn criticism for agreeing to have as surrogates like activist Linda Sarsour and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who have been accused of peddling anti-Semitic myths.
New Hampshire’s primary, the second nominating contest, takes place next Tuesday. The Iowa caucuses, which took place on Monday, have yet to declare an outcome, but Sanders is tied in the lead with Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.