When Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won the first Democratic primary of the 2016 race in New Hampshire Tuesday night, it was notable for several reasons. First, he was up against former secretary of state, senator, first lady and political powerhouse Hillary Clinton. Second, he's a self-described democratic socialist. And third, he's Jewish.
Sanders' victory marks the first time a Jewish candidate has ever won an American presidential primary. According to the Guardian, it's the also the first time a primary victor hasn't been Christian.
“On some level, it’s very cool,” political consultant Steve Rabinowitz told the Jerusalem Post before the results came out. "It’s nice as a proud Jew, I like to see Jews succeed, even if I was rooting for somebody else."
Did Bernie just make history by becoming the first Jewish candidate to win a presidential primary? Pretty cool #NewHampshirePrimary
— Yasmeen Serhan (@YasmeenSerhan) February 10, 2016
Sanders, 74, was born to a Polish-Jewish immigrant father and an American Jewish mother in Brooklyn and grew up Jewish, MSNBC reported. He's usually quiet on the subject of religion and whether he practices it, though he said at a candidate forum last week that faith was "a guiding principle" in his life. "I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings," Sanders said at the time.
Modern voters are much more accepting of the idea of a Jewish president than they once were. In 1937, about 46 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll said they'd be willing to elect a Jewish leader. This had increased to 91 percent as of last year.
Worth noting that Bernie being Jewish hasn't been an issue at all. That's not to say anti-semistism doesn't exist, but things have changed.
— Julia Rosen (@juliarosen) February 10, 2016
Sanders certainly isn't the only candidate in history to have ties to Judaism. Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee in 1964, had a Jewish father but identified as Christian, according to CNN. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, is Jewish but never won a primary. Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp ran for the Democratic nomination in 1976 but ultimately dropped out.
That's only one reason why Sanders' successful campaign is a big deal. "It has provided real education to America about the fact that Jews come in all shapes and stripes," New Hampshire Rabbi Robin Nafshi told the Huffington Post. "That no, we are not all keeping kosher or observing the Sabbath — that the way American Jews live our lives is as diverse as any group of people, perhaps even more diverse."
There are 28 Jewish lawmakers in Congress, according to the Pew Research Center. Most of them have backed Sanders' rival Clinton.