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Regardless of one’s political leanings, the presidential election of 2016 provides a fascinating lens through which to understand Jewish identity today. Bernie Sanders’ primary victories are the first ever by a Jew. And yet that fact has not been cause for attention, either within the Jewish community or outside of it. Just 16 years ago the Jewish community greeted Joe Leiberman’s nomination for vice-president with a mixture of particularistic elation and self-conscious anxiety. While Lieberman was certainly more ritually observant than Sanders is, Sanders is surely the most Jewish-looking and Jewish-sounding politician ever to take the national stage – not to mention the one who has gotten closest to the White House. At the same time Sanders has lived most of his life outside the Jewish community. He has not been a practicing Jew since his youth, and has not raised his children as Jews. When finally forced to speak about his religious heritage Sanders spoke of his pride in being Jewish, and his recollections of growing up in a neighborhood where he came into regular contact with Holocaust survivors. Hillary Clinton raised her daughter in the White House. Chelsea, as we know, went on to marry a Jewish man, Marc Mezvinsky in a ceremony that was officiated by a rabbi under a chuppah. The couple now has a daughter and is expecting their second child. Although no intentions have been publicly announced, it is quite likely those children will have some degree of Jewish observance and practice in their life. And they would have the right to become citizens of the State of Israel under the Law of Return. Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka chose to become Jewish prior to her marriage to Jared Kushner. She, her husband and their two (soon to be three) children keep kosher and observe Shabbat. When Trump is asked about his support for Israel, he is quick to proudly point out that his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish and that Israel is therefore a personal issue for him. No longer can we conceive of the Jewish community as having fixed boundaries. There are proud Jews who will choose to live their lives largely outside the Jewish community. There are others who grew up outside the Jewish community but who through family relations are now fully intertwined with Jewish identity and destiny. Is Hillary Clinton a bubbie? Is Donald Trump a zaydie? How can we understand Sanders’ outward Jewish appearance and avowed Jewish pride alongside his rejection of an active Jewish life? I’m not sure what the answers to these questions might be. But it is fascinating to observe the ways in which the presidential race reflects the changing nature of Jewish identity in our generation.

TI Chronicle Summer Edition 2016  
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