Bernie Sanders on his Jewish upbringing, and how it impacted his politics

Many relatives of Sanders' father – a polish Jew – died at the hands of the Nazis.Reuters

Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has suggested that his Jewish upbringing had a significant impact on his decision to pursue politics.

In an interview with the New Yorker, 74-year-old Sanders, who has gained popularity particularly among young voters, said his passion for politics comes from his Jewish roots.

His childhood "exerted a lasting influence," the New Yorker reported; growing up Jewish in the WWII era "imbued in him that politics mattered".

Many relatives of Sanders' father – a polish Jew – died at the hands of the Nazis, from which Sanders says he took away a lesson: "An election in 1932 ended up killing 50 million people around the world."

Of the 21 main candidates for the presidential election (15 of these are Republican; Sanders is one of six Democrats), Sanders is arguably the least openly religious, and most left-wing. However he has expressed deep admiration for Pope Francis, saying, "I find myself very close to [his] teachings".

The Washington Post notes that Sanders recently addressed students at Liberty University; the largest evangelical Christian university in the world. While there, he said that while he and the majority of the students may disagree on some issues – Sanders is pro-choice and supports gay marriage – "there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and in fact to the entire world, that maybe, just maybe, we do not disagree on and maybe, just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve them.

"I am far, far from being a perfect human being, but I am motivated by a vision, which exists in all of the great religions, in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam and Buddhism, and other religions," he said.

"And that vision is so beautifully and clearly stated in Matthew 7:12, and it states, 'So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the war and the prophets.' That is the golden rule. Do unto others, what you would have them do to you. That is the golden rule, and it is not very complicated."

Sanders appealed to his audience's sense of justice; pointing out the social inequalities in America, the fact that over half of all new income generated is going to the top 1 per cent, and that thousands die every year because they can't afford healthcare.

"That is not justice. That is not morality. People should not be dying in the United States of America when they are sick," he said. "I think that when we talk about morality, what we are talking about is all of God's children. The poor, the wretched, they have a right to go to a doctor when they are sick."

He again aligned himself with Pope Francis, who has advocated strongly on behalf of the poor and last year urged the members of the World Economic Forum to create a world where "humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it".

"I am not a theologian, I am not an expert on the Bible, nor am I a Catholic," Sanders said. "I am just a United States senator from the small state of Vermont. But I agree with Pope Francis...when he says, and I quote, 'The current financial crisis originated in a profound human crisis, the denial of the primacy of the human person'.

"Now those are pretty profound words, which I hope we will all think about. In the Pope's view, and I agree with him, we are living in a nation and in a world, and the Bible speaks to this issue, in a nation and in a world which worships not love of brothers and sisters, not love of the poor and the sick, but worships the acquisition of money and great wealth. I do not believe that is the country we should be living in.

"Money and wealth should serve the people. The people should not have to serve money and wealth."