Sanders vs. Bloomberg Scenario Is Like a Jewish Joke Turned Ominously Real

The late and great Leo Rosten recounted in his book "Hooray for Yiddish" that whenever his father would marvel at the wonders of the United States, instead of using the staple quip “Only in America,” he would exclaim “America gonef!” The saying literally means “America the thief,” but in the mouths of Jewish immigrants to the United States, it evolved to signify their unending gratitude and admiration for the country that took them in and made them prosper.

Rosten recounts that his father, Sam Rosenberg of Lodz, would exclaim “America gonef” at least five times a day. If he were alive today to witness the Democratic primary race, Mr. Rosenberg would have surely doubled or tripled his daily output. As if it weren't amazing enough that one Jew is leading the Democratic pack, his main challenger could very well turn out to be yet another Jew. If Mad Magazine were still breathing, it might have replaced its legendary strip “Spy vs. Spy” with “Jew vs. Jew.” America gonef!

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 63

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 63Haaretz

The fact that Bernie Sanders is now the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is a milestone in American Jewish history in and of itself. The possibility, if not yet probability, that in the final showdown Sanders could face Michael Bloomberg is American Jewish history gone berserk. As the Eagles noted in “Hotel California,” “This could be heaven or this could be hell” – but the odds are in favor of the latter.

The fact that two Jewish Americans are serious contenders to be nominated as presidential candidate by a major U.S. party is testament to the prominence and acceptance of what is undoubtedly the greatest Jewish Diaspora, pardon the expression, of the modern era. It comes at a time, however, when the same Jewish community is feeling exceptionally vulnerable and anti-Semitism is on the rise – particularly in the rival political camp. If either Sanders or Bloomberg face off against Donald Trump, an anti-Semitic surge on the white right – from the White House down – is almost inevitable.

Besides their shared Jewishness, which both Bloomberg and Sanders have miraculously rediscovered on the campaign trail, the two candidates have other things in common. They were born within four months of each other: A President Sanders would celebrate his 80th in his first year in office, ans Bloomberg at the start of his second. Both are quick-witted and sharp-tongued, with long memories and short tempers: Acerbic Jews might describe them as alter kakers, for which the genteel Rosten used the initials A.K.

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg hosting a ‘United for Mike’ at the Aventura Turnery Jewish Center and Tauber Academy Social in Miami, Florida, January 26, 2020. MARIA ALEJANDRA CARDONA/ REUTE

But as Jewish mazel would have it, Sanders and Bloomberg aren’t merely two random contestants in a field of many: They are antagonists on a sure-fire collision course. Politically, upstart Bloomberg is already raining on what is expected to be Sanders’ victory parade after the Nevada caucuses on Saturday. The former New York mayor’s qualification for the Wednesday night debate in Las Vegas stole some of the limelight from Sanders in advance; their expected clashes generated more anticipation and excitement than any of the previous seven Democratic debates.

If Bloomberg outlasts Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to emerge as the last man standing among the party’s centrist candidates, he could become Sanders’ potential spoiler. In the shtetls of their forefathers in Poland, Sanders’ followers would dub Bloomberg a mazik, which, as Michael Wex explains in "Born to Kvetch," is a kind of mischievous poltergeist who comes along at night to ruin the shoes you’ve been fixing all day.