All in the family: my mishpucha, Bernie Sanders

by Gayle Brandeis

“Bernie represents all the values my heritage has instilled in me, values that extend way beyond that heritage — the quest for social justice, the deep desire to take care of people, to repair the world.”

My grandfather, Simon Bransky, was a Democratic precinct captain in the South Side of Chicago when my now-96-year-old dad was growing up in the 20s and 30s. Simon, a Russian Jewish refugee, took this job very seriously — almost more seriously than his day job, my dad has told me. When the opportunity arose for me to serve as precinct captain for my own neighborhood in North Lake Tahoe, it felt like the chance to carry on a proud family tradition. This was my first time voting in Nevada, and the caucus process was new and somewhat bewildering to me. Voting is normally such a private experience — making it public, bringing a bunch of people into a high school multi-purpose room and having them physically take sides and intellectually duke it out sounded a bit Wild West. Despite my training, I found myself quite nervous about the process before I arrived at the caucus site, but our precinct was thankfully a civil one, and the communal experience was a good reminder that voting isn’t about the individual at all — it’s about the greater good, and the folks filling the room were the living, breathing, people I was voting for our future President to represent. It felt good to be in my purple Bernie Sanders t-shirt amongst my neighbors; it felt good to support the candidate I felt could best serve my fellow citizens across the country. Bernie may not have won Nevada, but he did win in our precinct, 38 to 26.

My grandfather, who died in 1937, would be thrilled to know I’ve been stumping for a Jewish presidential candidate, something he probably couldn’t have imagined in his lifetime. Bernie’s candidacy is certainly a wonderful surprise for my dad, who had such a hard time finding a job as a Jewish man after serving in WWII, the Anti-Defamation League got involved.

My father, Buzz Brandeis (né Alvin Bransky), in his World War II uniform.

My dad later changed his last name during the McCarthy era because having a Russian name was bad for business in those Communist witch hunt days (lingering echoes of which we see now in people’s fears of Bernie’s Democratic Socialism). My dad was sad to have to hide any part of himself; he steadfastly held on to his Jewish identity through his chosen last name, Brandeis.Bernie represents all the values my heritage has instilled in me, values that extend way beyond that heritage — the quest for social justice, the deep desire to take care of people, to repair the world.I am excited to be able to stand for a candidate who stands for all of us, no matter what our background may be, excited to stand for a campaign that comes from the people up instead of from corporations down.

When I look at Bernie, he feels like a relative — like a long lost uncle, Uncle Bernie, someone I could ask to pass the bagels — and I love how he wants to treat us all as family: making sure have good health care and education, making sure we can make a living wage, making sure we have a planet we can pass down to our grandchildren, making sure war is our absolute last option, making sure our human rights are respected. I am proud to feel my grandfather’s genes stirring inside me now, proud to be able to support a candidate of integrity and authenticity, a candidate with both passion and compassion, the man I think of as my mishpucha, Mr. Bernie Sanders.