Sanders is a year younger than I; one of our parents born in occupied Poland, the other one generation removed. Bernie often describes his parents as Polish Immigrants, while I, and others of this background, do not. First of all Poland as a sovereign country did not exist at the time our forebears lived there, and Jews, depending on whether it was the area governed by Imperial Russia or the Austria-Hungarian Empire, faced something worse than Jim Crow segregation, more severe in the Russian controlled region. Let me acknowledge that my "expertise" in this subject comes from the memories of my Mother who emigrated in 1909, at seven years of age, and reading the extensive articles on Wikipedia.
We of the many millions of Jewish Americans of this background know our parents did not identify as Polish, even though they were from the area within the borders of the current country. His parents and grandparents when they lived there may not have even spoken Polish. Theyt were not allowed to use the public parks, as my mother described the signs that read, " No dogs and Jews allowed" -- reliving the hurt she felt as a child.
Based on everything we know about Sanders, he is an atheist-agnostic who identifies with his Jewish heritage to a degree that he has never publicly described. We do not know how he reconciles his own personal beliefs, his secularism, with the God of his forebears and the majority of Americans. As of now this is not an issue, yet I believe even in the current absence of this discussion in the media it will be. His opponent for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, last month spoke about her Christian beliefs.
The five candidates for the Republican nomination never miss a chance to affirm their devotion to Jesus Christ as their personal redeemer. In what seems like a bizarre comment after last weeks debate, Trump suggested that his multiple IRS audits may be, "Well, maybe because of the fact that I'm a strong Christian, and I feel strongly about it and maybe there's a bias," There is no way in the world that if Trump is the Republican Candidate against Sanders, his heritage and lack of religious faith will not become ugly.
The current President before his entry into national politics had a candid conversation about his own religious feelings, the transcript of
which is available. While Barack Obama felt comfortable talking
candidly and extensively about this part of his life, which included a
frank ridicule of the simplistic vision of an afterlife, I have no
reason to believe that Sanders has given this much thought- or if he has
he has formulated it in a way that he wants to present to the public.
This is all the more reason for him to start now, first having such a
discussion among friends but not to shape public acceptability but to
express is actual feelings on this deeply personal matter.
I have written this long essay on this subject with an introduction and direct link to the Pew Research survey. It describes the public sentiment towards Jews that conflate those who are secular with those who are religious; in reality, two very different groups.
Sanders is missing an opportunity; and by his silence is becoming more vulnerable. The opportunity he is missing is that there is a growing number of Americans who do not identify with one of the main religions and would value a potential national leader who can share his own ambivalences in this area. . Many who do identify with a Religion or Denomination, do so conditionally, often ignoring overtly or tacitly their strictures.
His vulnerabilities are that by his silence, as he gets closer to the possibility of his being President, when challenged or accused of being an atheist, any response will be construed as defensive, and thus no longer taken as his authentic self. Now is the time that he share this part of his life with those whose government he proposes to lead.