By COLlive reporter
In a rare appearance, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders joined Lubavitch of Iowa on Sunday night to help light a large Menorah during the annual Chanukah on Ice celebration in Des Moines.
Standing alongside Chabad Rabbi Yossi Jacobson at the Brenton Skating Plaza in Des Moines, Sanders wore a kippah as he stood with a crowd of 90 people to recite the blessings on the Menorah and celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights.
It’s rare to see the U.S. senator from Vermont, who is a secular Jew, in a religious setting while running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bloomberg News wrote.
Rabbi Jacobson, who runs Maccabee’s Kosher Deli in Des Moines with his wife Chana, noted that Sanders rarely talks about Judaism on the campaign trail. That has raised questions about whether he’s uncomfortable with his Jewish identity, Jacobson told the media.
Rabbi Jacobson said Sanders was reluctant at first to accept the invitation to light the menorah candles, but once he did, he embraced the evening with enthusiasm, Bloomberg Media reported.
At the event, Sanders talked about his father immigrating at age 17 from Poland, “fleeing anti-semitism and fleeing violence and fleeing terrible, terrible poverty.”
Sanders joked about not burning down the ice skating rink before lighting the menorah candles with a blowtorch provided by the event organizers. He joined in, reading the words, as the rabbi sang a blessing, Bloomberg News reported. An icy wind blew his borrowed kippah off his head at one point.
His participation came less than 24 hours after a man stabbed five people at a rabbi’s home in the New York City suburb of Monsey during a Chanukah celebration on Motzoei Shabbos.
“What we’re seeing right now — we’re seeing it in America, we’re seeing it all over the world — is a rise in anti-semitism. We’re seeing a rise in hate crimes,” Sanders said. “And as the rabbi indicated, if there was ever a time in American history where we say no to religious bigotry, this is the time,” he said.
At the event, Rabbi Jacobson and his wife, Chana, who run Maccabee’s Kosher Deli in Des Moines, handed out latkes and doughnuts.
Rabbi Jacobson said he asked Sanders his Hebrew name. Binyamin, Sanders answered.
The rabbi said he gave Sanders a blessing, “for his health.”
— Abshir Omar (@AbshirDSM) December 30, 2019
Bernie Sanders at a Hanukkah event in Iowa gave a short speech on diversity and religious freedom, joked about not burning down the ice skating rink, lighted menorah, and sang a blessing with about 90 audience members.
Rabbi Jacobson handed the presidential candidate a kippah. pic.twitter.com/gNB1Z2YXFd
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) December 30, 2019