When Bernie Sanders was asked during the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan about reports that Jews were disappointed that he seemingly downplayed his Jewishness during his campaign, Sanders responded by saying that being Jewish is “essential” to who he is.

“I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am,” Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, replied.
“Look, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust,” said Sanders, 74, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, and whose father immigrated to the United States from Poland.

“I know about what crazy and radical, and extremist politics mean,” he said. “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 camp. I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being.”

Sanders’ relationship to his Jewish identity was never a national concern during his decades as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and then as a senator from Vermont. However, his history making bid for the presidency brought the issue to the forefront and in two prior debate appearances, he seemingly avoided the topic, even when it was clearly an issue.

When asked at a debate in February about his rival’s, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, historic potential, as she would become the first female president, Sanders said someone of his “background” becoming president would be historic as well, without specifying that he would be the first Jewish president.

Sanders made history back in February when he became the first Jewish candidate to win a nominating election when he won New Hampshire.

Sanders easily won Maine on March 6, the eighth contest he has won compared to Clinton’s 12. Clinton continues to lead Sanders substantially in delegates. The next major contest is on March 8 in Michigan, and Clinton is leading Sanders in the polls.

While Sanders and Clinton agreed on many topics during the debate, particularly on the need for accountability in Flint, where state government decisions about water piping have led to mass contamination of the drinking water, they clashed on other issues.
While discussing gun control, Clinton highlighted Sanders’ opposition in the past to some measures. While discussing the economy, Sanders emphasized his opposition to the 2008 bailout of the finance sector and Clinton’s Wall Street ties, while Clinton zeroed in on Sanders’ failure to support the Troubled Asset Relief Program that underwrote the car manufacturer bailout in 2008, which proved essential to protecting jobs in Michigan. In addition, while discussing trade, Sanders said that he favored greater protections, while Clinton defended international commerce as healthy for the U.S. economy.