Bernie Sanders could have come from a family of slaveholders (immigrating from the Caribbean) instead of a family defying the Nazis. Larry David’s family in the South had bought slaves and that horrified him.
I knew that the Bernie Sanders story told by Dr. Henry Louis Gates would include the DNA of a family member fighting oppression, but I had the wrong era. I mentioned minutes before the real information was presented that probably somewhere in Russia a Sanders family member was fighting against the Tsar or Czar, perhaps as a socialist or communist. That is what Jews often did to make a better world.
There were Zionists, too, who wanted to flee to America, but that was problematic because it caused a shortage of workers in a class society where the poor were considered inferior. My own family came from Przemsyl in Galicia in Austria-Hungary (Poland) probably because the Emperor removed troops from that town or region and this resulted in a depression. This was not told to me by family and I obtained the information in the 21st Century by visiting Przemysl where an historian spoke to me about those days.
The poverty that I have described in Galicia was mentioned on television and I will repeat that the poverty in Galicia was so much worse than the poverty in Ireland at the time of the Potato Famine. The poverty continued to plague the minds of people in Poland as it was revealed that there were pogroms against Jews even after World War I. Bernie Sanders had not known about these events because they were not part of his family spoken history nor were they easily available in Brooklyn back in those days. I left Brooklyn with my family in 1949 and those pogroms were not clarified to me on the Lower East Side by anyone. And there were no Google searches possible of those important historical events.
A century ago, world leaders knew that communism was going to become a great threat due to the excesses and injustices of capitalism and the feudal system that dominated throughout Europe. Things had to change and change is never fast enough.
I have known for decades that Jews, Ukrainians, and Poles were segregated in the university and those events soon led to violence against Jews. That I learned only from searches of the New York Times on microfilm. The world is always changing but history seems to keep repeating itself.
Larry David was told to find a career in the USPS or United States Postal Service by his family. In our family it was not uncommon to be told by bubba or abuela to become a butcher. Our family did have a shop in Brooklyn before World War II and there was economic progress taking place because of that. When that ended things did not improve that much. My uncle did take a job in the Post Office after returning from the Army in 1950s, but he soon achieved skills to permit him to work and advance in the court system until he retired.
It was only a week ago or so that I mentioned to a man that there were Jews on both sides of the Civil War, thinking about Judah Benjamin who was Secretary of State of the Confederate States of America. And now it seems the next secretary of state will be a Jewish American or an American Jew, whichever preference you may have. I prefer the former.
In the 1840s, Benjamin and a partner (Bellechasse) bought a sugar cane plantation. Benjamin was not a Democrat as he was very influential in the Whig Party and received appointments due to his influence in party politics. He abandoned the Whigs in the 1850s. And at the time of the Election of 1860, he was neither for Stephen A. Douglas nor for Abraham Lincoln. The South moved away from Douglas, the Democratic candidate, to support John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky.
Benjamin was appointed to the cabinet of President Jefferson Davis, the first time that a Jew had been appointed to anyone’s cabinet on the continent. He was in the War Department and rose a year later to secretary of state. When the Civil War was ending, Benjamin took flight and made his way outside the country to escape. He had to get to English or Spanish possessions to have a chance and finally made his way to England.
Benjamin defended slavery on the grounds of property rights. He could speak with great emotion of the humanity of the slave in court and he advanced in the South in spite of that. And as for being a Jew amongst so much anti-Semitism in the South, it has been written that Benjamin had become a “pet Jew” among the Southern leaders who could demonstrate that they were not anti-Semitic by his existence and rank among them.
I felt that the information about Judah Benjamin would be helpful as well as other thoughts. Yes there have been Jews on both sides of critical historical evils. Jews around Hitler and Jews around the greater of two evils elected in 2016.
In recalling Alexander Hamilton who came up to New York from the Caribbean to achieve greater fame in the last decade than he ever had from our history classes, we should remember the legal duel where he lost his life. Judah Benjamin must have lived in fear as he took unpopular decisions in life, especially to support and alleviate the emotional distress of slaves in a court case. He was lucky that nobody assassinated him. And there was no “stand your ground” law in place in Louisiana where he lived or in Florida where he fled to at the end of the war. And keep in mind that immigrants who just got off the boat during the Civil War in the North would even kill to keep African Americans from getting jobs during those days.
With this information in mind, the reaction of Bernie Sanders to the pogrom in Poland where neighbors and perhaps even friends or associates killed Jews should be much better understood. I can tell you that since 1993 nobody has done anything to me where I live that has been anti-Semitic. But I have seen racism among Whites and Blacks. Sometimes it is about people of another race getting jobs. We are all in competition for things from the air we breathe to the toilet paper we need in COVID-19 life to getting the job needed to survive with high such unemployment.
Judah Benjamin was and is hard to understand and so much of what has taken place in America in the last four years has also been hard to understand as well. The show that I watched was a rerun and the David and Sanders have known for years that they are related.
And I thank them both for the work they have done toward what I call The Force 2020 DDT or Defeat Donald Trump. And Happy Thanksgiving!