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With the Democratic National Convention wrapped up and the race now decidedly between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, many are reflecting on the primaries as we enter the void between the official nominations of the candidates and the first Presidential debate that will refocus the nation’s attention on politics.
This reflection is bittersweet for many Bernie Sanders supporters, who saw their candidate lose a relatively tight race that ended with a bombshell email leak showing collusion against their candidate. This has led to well documented cognitive dissonance in which Sanders’ fans are scared of Trump, distrustful of Hillary, and unsure third parties can make a significant impact.
But it’s not all anguish on the left. Some see Sanders not as the end goal, but as an important step in the right direction. Important barriers need to be broken down, they argue, before America is ready to elect a true progressive. On that accord, Sanders’ Presidential run was extremely successful. His success proved you can run for President without taking money from corporations, that you don’t have to be a famous to be elected, and that the socialist label isn’t a disqualifier.
But there’s one major barrier to entry that Sanders broke that few are discussing, and it may be the most significant.
Sanders’ run was an important milestone for Jewish people
With his victory in New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders’ became the first Jewish Presidential candidate to win a Presidential primary. This alone was a big deal, but the fact that he ended the primary with 43% of the popular vote and 45% of the pledged delegates, winning 23 states and territories, is a major moment in Jewish history.
Jewish oppression has been a staple throughout world history. From the Black Death persecutions in Europe to Pogroms in the Middle East to the Holocaust, Jews have been discriminated against and murdered for their beliefs for more than two millennia. With this context, the importance of a Jewish candidate getting 45% of the vote in a Presidential primary of the most powerful country on earth cannot be overstated.
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke on the impact of Sanders’ success on Jewish culture during the primary.
“It’s the most wonderful anti-climax in American Jewish history,” said Pesner.“You have a guy who is from New York with a Brooklyn accent named Bernie who is a viable presidential candidate and nobody is discussing it, which to me is just a remarkable statement of the success of the American Jewish community to be fully integrated and distinct at the same time.”
Sanders’ success is a milestone for atheists as well
Despite supposed planned DNC attempts to convince you otherwise, Bernie Sanders is not an atheist. What he is, however, is an openly secular Jew. That’s a major breakthrough in a country that has only ever elected practicing Christians, some of whom held quite radical religious beliefs, like when George Bush claimed God told him to invade Iraq.
When Sanders’ was asked what his religious beliefs were, he gave a profound humanitarian vision of the world that included no mention of a deity.
“I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child,” Sanders told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say ‘hey, this whole world, I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.’ That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in… That we are in it together as human beings.”
Sanders’ didn’t win the primary, but his success proved many traditional norms of politics to be incorrect. Not only did his lack of traditional Christian beliefs prove to not be a noticeable hamstring to his chances, the discussion of his secular Judaism hardly even came up, and voters didn’t seem to care.
There’s still a long way to go for the secular movement to achieve its goal of removing religion from being a qualification to lead the country effectively, but Sanders showed things are moving in the right direction.