Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Fast Forward

Bernie Sanders Opens Up About His Struggles Growing Up In Brooklyn

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said he was encouraged to fight for equal access to health care after his mother’s early death, the Associated Press reported.

Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, rarely talks about any personal connections to his policies. But in a recent interview with the AP, he shared how losing his mother Dorothy at 18 years old was “very, very difficult.”

“In fact, I graduated Madison High School and went to Brooklyn College for one year, and I decided to leave Brooklyn because I kind of wanted to get away from the community that I’d grown up in,” he said.

This winter, he visited Brooklyn College as he geared up for his second run for president and recalled his upbringing in the borough. He said his father arrived from Poland “without a nickel in his pocket.” They were “lower middle class;” Sanders and his older brother slept on a trundle bed in the living room, according to AP. He remembers all the arguments that came out of living “paycheck to paycheck.” The family didn’t discuss politics much, but they did talk about the Holocaust — several relatives had died in concentration camps.

“I know where I came from,” he said, “and that is something I will never forget.”

He was “a natural leader among the track team kids,” a former classmate told AP, and when he ran for study body president as a senior, he promised to help fundraise for a Korean child whose parents were killed in the war. He lost, but he still raised the money. Then his mother got sick and his focused shifted. An uncle helped get Dorothy into a hospital that could take care of patients without billing them.

The first bill he introduced when he joined Congress in 1991 was for states to adopt universal healthcare (it was unsuccessful).

Alyssa Fisher is a writer at the Forward. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter at @alyssalfisher

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.