Bernie Sanders would be the first Jewish president in American history, but he doesn't talk about it much on the campaign trail.
On Sunday, Anderson Cooper asked him whether he was intentionally downplaying his heritage. Sanders gave a great response — one that this Jewish writer, in particular, found incredibly moving:
No, I'm very proud of being Jewish. And being Jewish is so much of what I am.
Look, my father's family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical and extremist politics mean. I learned that lesson as a tiny, tiny child when my mother would take me shopping, and we would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler's concentration camps.
I'm very proud of being Jewish. And that's an essential part of who I am as a human being.
There were moments during the campaign where it really did seem like Bernie was, as Cooper suggested, downplaying his Judaism. Most obviously, he identified his parents as "Polish immigrants" rather than "Jewish immigrants" — something most Jews would never do given how viciously Jews were abused by Poles and the Polish government over the years.
But tonight's answer was so obviously heartfelt that this kind of minor misstep didn't matter. In particular, the moment where Sanders talked about seeing Holocaust survivors nearly brought me tears. It reminded me of countless conversations with my mother and grandfather, himself a Holocaust survivor. That's how Jews remember the aftermath of the Holocaust in America.
Jewish identity isn't reducible to how we remember the Holocaust. But it is a huge part of it. And for a presidential candidate to stand up and say, categorically, that he is one of us like this — well, it's hard not to kvell at least a little.