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Bernie, won’t you please come home? A Passover invitation to Bernie Sanders

The presidential hopeful should visit Israel now to demonstrate how much he truly cares about the Jewish community

Dear Senator,

As an Orthodox rabbi, I want you know that I am quite proud of you. That is because the values at the center of your campaign come straight out of the Jewish tradition. Concern for the poor and the fight against injustice are major biblical themes that are profoundly developed in the Talmud. They are values that marked Jewish communities wherever they were established. Likewise, allowing for universal access to good education is also a cornerstone of the Jewish tradition. In fact, one of the earliest rabbinic leaders, Rabban Gamliel, was deposed largely because of his restrictive educational policies.

It is clear that you are aware that your views overlap with much of what is known as the Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, you have had good reason to reach out to Christian fundamentalists and for the surprise visit to the Vatican that you announced on Friday.

Yet when it has come to making similar moves towards your own religious community, you seem to be reticent.

You have spoken about the centrality of the Holocaust in your political thinking and the critical need to fight against intolerance. I salute you for that. But there are other messages that Jews have taken from the Holocaust. One colleague, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, has famously concluded that since others didn’t do nearly enough to save the Jews of Europe, Jews today must prioritize helping each other. And part of that is concern for the security of the State of Israel. I am not asking you to agree with that, but I am asking you to sympathize with where this is coming from. And so, for example, if you see fit to disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu, understand that his views — like yours — come as a response to the Holocaust.

While so much of what you say resonates strongly, I feel as if you are not looking for our support. As far as you have articulated and formulated your policies on Israel, they are probably ones that we can live with. That’s not the problem. Rather, I am concerned about the symbolism or lack of symbolism toward a community that it would make sense for you to attract. You were the only major candidate who did not put the AIPAC conference on your schedule. That was certainly not helpful. Your mistaken insistence on there being 10,000 civilian casualties in Gaza in a recent interview did not help matters either. We did not feel animosity, but a lack of concern. You didn’t care enough to come to speak to us and you didn’t care enough to find out more of the facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The sense you are giving many of us Jews is that you are just not that interested in finding out what is on our minds or what makes us tick. We all know how important the New York elections are to the success of your campaign and how important the Jewish vote is in New York, your state of birth. And I am sure you know the importance of the Jewish vote in other key states such as California and New Jersey. But I do not ask you to show concern out of political interest. I ask it because I am convinced that your concern for the Jews is actually there.

You have just accepted an invitation to go to Rome. Now I ask you to accept another invitation  this one to come to the city that gave Rome its significance to begin with. I ask you to come to Jerusalem and Israel. If you want to show you care about the Jewish community, there is no better way to send that message than by visiting Israel — now. You will see how much has changed since you spent time on kibbutz so many years ago. And you will see why — in spite of all the progress that has been made — American Jews continue to fear for the security of this country, so critical to the Jewish future. But more important, you will send a message that needs to be heard — the message that you truly care about your roots and about a community that has contributed so much to America.

A truly fitting symbol would be to come celebrate the Festival of Freedom, Passover, here in the holy city. To that end, I am saving you and your family a place at my Seder table on Friday April 22. I look forward to a positive response.


Rabbi Francis Nataf
Jerusalem, Israel

About the Author
Rabbi Francis Nataf is a Jerusalem-based educator and thinker. He is the author of the Redeeming Relevance series on the Torah and of many articles.