U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders had little money and name recognition when he entered the 2016 race for the White House, but the son of a Polish immigrant made history in New Hampshire earlier this week, becoming the first Jewish candidate to win a presidential primary election.
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Even though the self-described Democratic socialist has said in the past that he is culturally Jewish, but “not particularly religious,” members of the Jewish community -- both Democrats and Republicans -- have been taking notice.
“We congratulate Senator Sanders on his victory,” Greg Rosenbaum, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, a political lobbying group, said.
Even the Republican Jewish Coalition, also a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group, had positive things to say about Sanders’ decisive win in the Granite State.
“We’re happy when anybody who is Jewish is successful politically and this is just another step in the right direction for diversity on the national stage whether it’s religiously, racially or gender wise,” Mark McNulty, a spokesman for the organization, said.
But McNulty cautioned that even if Sanders prevails in the Democratic race and becomes the first Jewish presidential nominee, the Republican Jewish Coalition will support the GOP candidate, not the independent Vermont senator.
And Rosenbaum, of the National Jewish Democratic Council, argued that there is a stark contrast between how the two parties support Jewish values.
“The Democratic nominating process is shaping up as a discussion of how best to implement policy that is very much in line with Jewish values,” he said, “while the Republicans remind us time and time again of how out of touch their party is with issues that matter to most American Jews.”
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president and founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organization that supports Israel and promotes cooperation between Jews and Christians, said the Democratic contest “is a sign our democracy is flourishing when a Jew and women from both parties can be considered serious candidates for president of the United States and we've had an African-American president.”
Eckstein added, "The Jewish community is, of course, not monolithic and there are Jewish supporters of every candidate in the race, who will base that support on those candidates' positions on important issues, rather than on their religions or backgrounds.”