I met a chief psychiatrist in New York during a joint conference years ago who said he was of Jewish descent. When we started a conversation about Jewish traditions, the only connection he recalled was his grandfather’s name, Chaim, a Hebrew name. This kind of episode is common in people who have distanced themselves from their Jewish roots. Some decide to revive connection with their roots only for personal gain and to make their anti-Semitic views appear kosher. Bernie Sanders is a case in point.
Why should this worry American Jews?
In the last few weeks, particularly after winning New Hampshire’s primary and Nevada caucuses, Sanders appears to be the Democratic frontrunner in four out of five polls designed to determine who is the preferred candidate to challenge Donald Trump in the next election. Since his presidential ambition has been recently invigorated, Sanders has conveniently shifted his political strategy from indifference about his Jewish background—as highlighted by multiple American publications, including The New York Times—to embracing and highlighting his heritage, portraying himself as potentially the first Jewish president in US history.
His new image as a liberal Jew sympathetic toward minorities, and as an old-but-skilled politician, is helping him gain popularity among the Democratic party’s left-leaning base, many of whom still think socialism is the solution to American inequalities. The Jewish card is also useful for advancing his anti-Israel agenda more freely in a similar manner to George Soros, who is accused of being behind multiple organizations against Israel.
Among his other anti-Israel positions, Sanders stated that he would condition military aid to Israel upon Israeli changes in policy toward the Palestinians. But the future of the US relationship with the Jewish nation is not of primary concern if Sanders is selected as the Democratic presidential candidate since, in the end, Israel’s future should depend on no one other than the people of Israel.
The problem that I foresee, should Sanders be elected, will be for American Jews. Undoubtedly, Jews will take the heat—as always happens when economic crises occur—for the certain failure of his populistic approach based on socialistic principles.
As history has shown, when populist socialist regimes fail to fulfill people’s expectations, National Socialism—Nazism—emerges. This certainly could happen again and the atrocities we thought were gone for good could resurface—a nightmare for American Jews.
At the outset, socialism appears to have the solutions Americans seek. The government lightens the load on the people’s shoulders, taking care of their basic needs. However, socialism falls short because it fails to take the egoistic quality of human nature into account: the fundamental need to fulfill oneself before any other person.
People innately lack motivation to truly benefit one another. As explained by Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) in his article “The Peace,” written in the 1930s, but just as relevant today as in the past: “Where would the worker or the farmer find sufficient motivation to work?’ For his daily bread will not increase or decrease by his efforts, and there are no goals or rewards before him.”
The Trump administration might not be the final panacea for all American problems, but its pragmatic economic approach of boosting the financial and industrial sectors is aimed in the right direction for today’s world. This is because, while we are still egoistic beings each aiming to benefit ourselves at the expense of others, and currently make no strides to correct the human ego so that a sincere desire to benefit others would become a leading value in society, then a pragmatic economic approach to grow financially and industrially provides a clear measurable foundation by which a country can sustain itself, both from within, and in connection with other countries.
In contrast, the socialistic view, which depends on ideas of equality and kindness being upheld by society and the government, might be pleasant to agree with in theory, but in practice, personal benefit at the expense of others will remain as top priority, eventually shattering such a setup. The government could never impose on people a true motivation to contribute to society with an earnest desire to see everyone fulfilled and secure. A prosocial and altruistic desire to benefit others among society can be achieved entirely via regular engagement in connection-enriching education. The basis for such a form of education can be found in the wisdom of Kabbalah, a methodology that provides in-depth understanding of how nature operates, including the egoistic human nature, and how to rise above the human ego in order to attain a genuine desire to benefit others.
Jews, who long ago received this method at the foot of Mount Sinai, can spark such a learning process in society by first refreshing their knowledge of the principles of connection, and then implementing positive connection among themselves by rising above internal differences. By so doing, Jews would become a positive example of how to build relations of mutual support, consideration and altruism as a launch pad for a better world. Such an elevation above the ego of a critical mass of people within humanity will hold the power to unify society above its myriad differences, thus erasing any totalitarian threats. Moreover, this forward-looking shift is independent of any politician or regime. It depends on our desire for positive change and our commitment to apply ourselves to educational programs aiming to unifying us above our differences.