The First Jewish-American President?
I remember when Senator Joe Lieberman ran as Vice President on the Democratic ticket with Al Gore in 2000. As a Jewish believer in Yeshua, this created a bit of a predicament for me, albeit short-lived. How should I, as a Jew, respond to a potential Jewish vice-presidency? And more specifically, how should I, as a Messianic Jew, respond to a potential Jewish liberal vice-presidency?
Now two decades later, with the recent entrance of Michael Bloomberg into the presidential race (though things can turn on a dime in today’s political climate), for the first time in American history, there are two serious Jewish candidates for president of the United States. While this time around I have no internal turmoil whatsoever, it is nevertheless a unique situation worth reflecting upon, as we see two prominent, influential Jews with deep Jewish ties who have lost virtually all connection to their heritage and their God.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is, of course, no stranger to presidential runs, as he was a close contender for the Democratic party’s nomination in 2016—an astounding feat in and of itself, but for a Jew, incredible. Sanders is a 78-year-old socialist, born in Brooklyn, NY to Jewish immigrants with heritage from Russia, Poland and Austria-Hungary (now part of Poland). His early family life was relatively non-religious, attending synagogue only on Yom Kippur, and having an annual family Passover. One of Sanders’ most formative socialistic experiences was actually Jewish in nature, as he lived for a time on a kibbutz in northern Israel.
While he says he is “proud to be Jewish,” Sanders also admits he is “not particularly religious” and “not actively involved” with organized religion. When asked about God, he said, “I think everyone believes in God in their own ways. To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.”
Sanders’ official position on the modern State of Israel is remarkably schizophrenic and, ultimately, anti-Israel, stating, “Israel must have the right to exist in peace and security, just as the Palestinians must have the right to a national homeland in which they and they alone control their political system and their economy.” He added half-erroneously on Twitter, “Israelis should not have to live in fear of rocket fire. Palestinians should not have to live under occupation and blockade.” Senator Sanders condemned President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and criticized Israel’s actions during the 2014 Gaza war.
With a history in parts both similar and dissimilar, billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg was thrice elected Mayor of New York City—it’s third Jewish mayor. Bloomberg (also nearly 78 years old) is a Democrat turned Republican turned Independent turned Democrat. He was born near Boston, Massachusetts, but unlike Sanders, whose parents were immigrants, Bloomberg’s parents were American citizens, themselves children of Russian and Belarussian immigrants.
Like Sanders, Bloomberg’s early life in Judaism was distant and sporadic, though apparently Orthodox. He is presently (and somewhat ironically from a Messianic perspective) a member of Temple Emanu-El (“Immanuel,” meaning “God with us”) in Manhattan, and adheres to Reform Judaism, the most liberal of the three main branches. It has been observed that in terms of culture and heritage, Bloomberg holds to a markedly more secular Jewish identity, never being known, for example, to have publicly shared anecdotes of Jewish grandparents from the Old Country.
Unlike Sanders, Bloomberg is an unapologetic supporter of the modern state of Israel, having flown his private jet into Ben-Gurion International Airport to protest the FAA ban on flights into Israel during the 2014 Gaza war. At the time, Bloomberg stated, “Every country has a right to defend its borders from enemies, and Israel was entirely justified in crossing into Gaza to destroy the tunnels and rockets that threaten its sovereignty.” Bloomberg has been significantly philanthropic in both the general Jewish community as well as in the State of Israel. He has also called the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel “an outrage” that is “totally misplaced.”
Now, I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that America is not going to elect a liberal (or leftist) Jew to the presidency—but what if it did? What kind of Jewish president would we have? Whether Sanders or Bloomberg, in either case, he would essentially be Jewish in name only. Neither men have either a strong connection to the Jewish faith, or, more importantly, any significant connection to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. While Sanders would perhaps bring a level of cultural Jewish awareness to the presidency, Bloomberg’s secular Jewish expression would be most prominent. And though the Israeli people might find an ally in Bloomberg, if Sanders ascended to the White House (God forbid), it would be catastrophic for the Jewish State.
The greatest Jew who ever lived, however, was never a senator, a mayor, nor a head of state. Yet it is truly a shame that even in the country with the greatest religious liberty perhaps in all of human history, neither Jewish candidate bears the Name of Israel’s God—to say nothing of the Name of His Son. This is why we must continue the good and difficult work of sharing the Messiah Yeshua with every Jewish person we can. The Jewish people—from the least to the greatest—need to know their Messiah, for the glory of our God, and the blessing of us all.
Let us be in prayer not only for the presidential election just a short nine months away, but for Jewish people everywhere to take hold of their spiritual legacy in the God of Israel, and for their eyes to be opened to the spiritual endowment of the Messiah of every Jew—the Master Yeshua.
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