When I hear the story of Bernie Sanders’ family, I hear the story of my family.
The roots of my mother’s family traces back to Poland and Russia. My great-grandmother, Sophie, left Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, before Hitler’s rise but during the height of Russia’s anti-Jewish pogroms.
I’ve never known exactly why my family left Europe for America because like many immigrants, they didn’t talk about their previous lives.
When they arrived on American soil they ceased to be Jewish. Judaism was no longer practiced in my family, names were Americanized and Yiddish was spoken privately in the household.
And like many immigrants, they were steadily working class, working in factories and the service industry in our small Upstate New York Rust Belt town.
I’ve spent the past several years trying to understand my family’s story through records and DNA, but it’s been challenging. Records of Jews in Europe and Russia are hard to come by, and all I’m left with is my imagination.
Did we have family members who perished in the Holocaust? Possibly, as I’ve heard stories that distant relatives of my great-grandmother’s stayed behind in Europe. However, it’s been near impossible to confirm whom these people were.
It’s maddening to not know my history.
What I do know is that my family didn’t want people to know they were Jewish. My grandmother told me her mother was fearful, but she didn’t elaborate further.
It’s taken me many years to empathize with my great-grandmother Sophie’s decision to make her family not Jewish. I feel as though I was deprived of knowing my past, but Sophie probably thought she was saving me — her unborn descendant.
A couple of years ago, before my beloved grandmother passed away, she warned me about publicly speaking of being Jewish. With the rise of anti-Semitic vandalism and hate crimes, she was concerned for my safety.
I moved to Pittsburgh the same month the Tree of Life synagogue shooting happened. I saw the police tape smudged into the wet grass, I saw the broken windows, I saw the vehicles from the Department of Homeland Security parked in the driveway, and I saw and felt the tears. That is when I knew my grandmother was right.
I also know that I can’t heed my grandmother’s warning.
I know where I came from.
I came from Jews, who fled their home to ensure they and their descendants could thrive.
I came from the Rust Belt, where immigrants settled and labored, lived, loved and died.
I came from the working class, who broke their backs to ensure America is one of the most successful countries in the world.
I came from a lineage of hard-working women, who empowered me to have a voice.
And as a working class Jewish woman from New York, I’m proud to support Bernie Sanders — a working class Jew from New York — for president of the United States.
When I hear the story of Bernie Sanders’ family, I hear the story of my family, the story of displaced Jewish immigrants who came to America for a better life — and whose labor made America the leader it is today.
I support Bernie Sanders because I know he will fight for working class Americans — of all genders, races, ethnicities and origins.
Not only has he been at the picket lines, union meetings and protests in support of workers and the marginalized — for decades — he was born into the struggle.
He knows what it’s like to be a child of an immigrant who came to America with only the shirt on their back and who labored endlessly to support their family.
He knows what it’s like to have gone to public school, to live in modest housing and to watch his parents stress about money and unfilled dreams.
He knows what it’s like to fight for change, not with money or clout, but with passion and perseverance.
And he knows that the heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears of this country lies within the working class, the immigrants, and the marginalized.