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Bernie Sanders is Continuing the Jewish Tradition of Activism

For decades, Jews have been at the front lines of social change, and Bernie is no exception.

Today, Bernie Sanders carries the ancestral baton from Samuel Gompers, the founder of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Union, which later became the America Federation of Labor (AFL). Today AFL-CIO oversees 55 labor unions comprised of 12.5 million workers.

He carries the baton from Clara Lemlich, who at the tender age of 23, encouraged thousands of impoverished Jewish workers at the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to strike due to poor working conditions and low pay.

And from Joshua Abraham Heschel, who in 1965 led a protest 800-strong against the FBI’s treatment of civil right activists. A short while later, he stood beside his friend Dr. Martin Luther King in the march from Selma to Montgomery.

And from Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, who told women they were so much more than just a mother and a wife, and who reminded the world that abortion is a woman’s choice — not the government’s.

And from Noam Chomsky, who in 1967, wrote the powerful “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” a condemnation of the elite for not speaking out against the U.S. government’s involvement in the Vietnam War and for playing a nonexistent role in the radical transformation of American society.

And from Abbie Hoffman & Jerry Rubin, who risked their lives, reputations and jail time to passionately speak out against the war in Vietnam.

And from Howard Zinn, who wrote the seminal book on America history — “A People’s History of the United States” — educating millions on the atrocities and injustices Native Americans, Black people and poor people faced in America for centuries.

And from Harvey Milk and Frank Kameny — the former being one of the earliest openly gay politicians in America; the latter being the father of the LGBTQIA+ rights movement — who bravely used their voices to speak out against homophobia when homosexuality was still taboo across most of America.

And from Bella Abzug, an accomplished lawyer and arguably the first feminist member of Congress whose campaign slogan was “This woman’s place is in the House — the House of Representatives.”

The list of radical Jewish thinkers and activists, whose cloth Bernie is cut from, is never-ending.

“Our experience of being kicked out of almost every country in Europe, of being murdered systematically because of who we are, of having our humanity denied for centuries, barred from many professions, forced to live in ghettos — it is natural to find solidarity with other historically oppressed people and victims of genocide,” says Mindy Ohringer, a New York-based Jewish writer, political analyst and Bernie Sanders supporter since 1991.

“We cannot ignore the suffering of others. It is so similar to what we have experienced for thousands of years, being viewed as “The Other.”

“When Jewish people –like Bernie and like me — grew up in a secular household in a family that has immigrated from Europe to escape anti-Semitism, the notion of resistance to oppression underpins all of family life,” says Katz. “It may not be a topic of open discussion, and often those who escaped death don’t want to talk about it, but it simmers under family and community life. I suspect that within Bernie’s world, like for so many first- and second-generation Jews in America, there was never any doubt about the responsibility to resist prejudice, only how best to do it.”

In his 2020 campaign for presidency, the normally private Bernie Sanders has been more vocal about his Jewish ancestry. He speaks of his paternal ancestors who perished in the Holocaust, and how he is the proud son of a Polish immigrant.

“We are one people,” Sanders says to the question asker. “And I don’t care if you’re Black, you’re white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, you’re gay, you’re straight. That’s not what it’s about. What it’s about is that we’re human beings and we share common dreams and aspirations. So, the pain that my family, my father’s family suffered in Poland, is something that’s impacted my life — absolutely.”

When I look at Bernie Sanders, I do not see a politician first — I see an activist. A Jewish activist. I see the Jews who came before us who bravely cleared the path to the podium and microphone. I see the Jews who helped unionize their co-workers to ensure worker democracy and fair treatment. I see the Jews who spoke out against needless wars and white supremacy. I see the Jews who stood up for women’s rights, Black’s rights and LGBTQIA+ rights. I see the Jews who were told they were too loud and too radical. I see the Jews who, all too well understanding pain and suffering, stood up for the underdogs, the working class, the marginalized, the forgotten, the abused.

Freelance writer; film Loves Her Gun premiered @ SXSW ‘13; used to be a Hollywood assistant; rail enthusiast; check out my dumb blog, hipstercrite.com

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