Opinion |

I Rage at Bernie Sanders, the Last Jewish Bolshevik. But I Can't Hate Him

Every Jew who lived under Soviet rule has a family member like Bernie Sanders, a living encyclopedia of the most catastrophic decisions made by Jews in the 20th century. But deep inside me there is a tiny bit of warmth: he's still family

Lev Stesin
Lev Stesin
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2020 Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event at his campaign office in Davenport, Iowa, U.S., August 19, 2019
2020 Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event at his campaign office in Davenport, Iowa, U.S., August 19, 2019Credit: \ ALEXANDER DRAGO/ REUTERS
Lev Stesin
Lev Stesin

For anyone who spent at least some part of their sentient years in the former Soviet Union, listening to Bernie Sanders delivering his sermons brings a sense of unsettling déjà vu.

The style of his rhetoric, the cadence of his speech, his choice of words from the hardcore Marxist vocabulary, his Leninist polemical style, his grotesquely nonsensical grandiose plans maddens the listener.

All of that, like a magic carpet, takes you back through the decades to the world we all hoped would be remembered only by the old timers, as material in history books serving as a cautionary lesson for the future generations.

Bernie gesticulating from the Democratic Party presidential hopefuls podium reminds us of Lenin from innumerable Soviet movies about the Bolshevik Revolution. His popularity infuriates us, the few remaining survivors of the most brutal social experiment in human history.

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Yet I personally - and many friends with a similar background - are surprised to find a soft spot for that old crazy revolutionary. I may laugh at Bernie. I may mock him and call him names. But I cannot get angry at him. Last election I started asking myself: Why?

The answer is difficult and simple at the same time. For every Jewish family in the old Soviet Empire had one member we can call Boris. He (though it could as easily be her) was a dedicated and forever faithful party member. Nothing could change his beliefs in the true path of the Party, and the holiness of its leaders. Boris was a man of faith and, as such, could not be swayed by pitiful reality.

A hundred years ago Jewish boys and girls from Pinsk, Minks, Dvinsk and Glupsk joined the Revolution. A century and a half of Tsarist persecutions, culminating in the pogroms, formed their entire world view. There could be nothing worse than the regime they were about to crash and burn, and nothing better than the new world of absolute equality of people and nations.

They abandoned their religious studies in the yeshivot of the Pale of Settlement and other institutions of higher education. They replaced one unbreakable faith with another, and left behind forever all vestiges of their past: their religion, their family ties, their heritage, their history. They changed their names: Berel became Boris.

To admit the Revolution failed was to say their absolute sacrifice for the cause was in vain. They and the Revolution were one and the same.

First Lenin, and then Stalin, were their Gods. Uncle Boris would read "Pravda" and discover the truth in its every single sentence.

But as with today's Bernie, Uncle Boris of yesteryear had no familiarity with the world he was about to flip upside down. Boris knew about the Russian peasant and his hardships from Tolstoy and Nekrasov. Bernie knows about the "inequalities" of today's America from the New York Times and the mass rallies of spoiled well-to-do's he holds across the country.

2020 US Democratic Presidential hopeful US Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders speaks on-stage during the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting in San Francisco, California on August 23, 2019Credit: AFP

As Uncle Boris, back in his youth, managed to infect many unsuspecting Russians with his revolutionary influenza, so has Bernie poisoned the minds of the young and naive. They are both Jewish "prophets": they pretend to possess the ultimate truth, and every lost argument just makes their convictions stronger.

Indeed, Bernie is that last living link that connects the 21st century Jewish present with the events of the early 20th. He is Trotsky riding his military train through the Russian steppe, only to be suddenly transported through time and space into present-day America. The train’s gear may be lost but the message and the fervent pitch of the Red Army commander is still intact.

You don't need to go to the library to find a history book about all the mistakes the Jews made in the 20th century. You only need to listen to Bernie’s speeches. He is a living encyclopedia of all the most catastrophic decisions made by Jews. It is sad and fascinating how Churchill never comes back from the dead, but Trotsky does.

When I hear Bernie speak, I start shouting at the TV screen. Although I am watching Bernie, in reality I am screaming at Uncle Boris. I am incensed with his naivete, orthodoxy, religiosity, self-righteousness and a fair amount of masochism.

I am angry with him because even after spending his entire life talking about the good and defending the evil he is still unable to see the truth. And after millions of innocents slaughtered, he is unable to admit even one mistake.

Still, even as I rage, somewhere deep inside me there is a tiny bit of warmth for that last Jewish Bolshevik. Indeed, he is the last Boris – and this is a family affair.

Bernie is the world we all hoped had long gone, yet he is resurrecting, in front of our eyes, the terrifying ghosts of yesteryear, evil packaged as nostalgia and a blazing pursuit of "justice."

Lev Stesin lives and works in Silicon Valley, California. He is a founding member of San Francisco Voice for Israel

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