Mystery Solved: Haaretz Archive Reveals Which Kibbutz Bernie Sanders Volunteered On

Sometime during the 60s Bernie Sanders spent time on an Israeli kibbutz. However, with his campaign keeping mum, people have been left in the dark trying to figure out where. Now a clue has emerged from Haarez's archive.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Manchester, Iowa, January 30, 2016.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Manchester, Iowa, January 30, 2016.Credit: AFP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Has the mystery about which kibbutz Sen. Bernie Sanders volunteered on in Israel in the 60s finally been solved?

Sanders says he once spent a few months on a kibbutz in Israel, but has continually declined to say which one. So far, all attempts – by a number of journalists as well as the merely curious – to discover which kibbutz hosted Sanders have failed.

However, on Thursday an article was found in the Haaretz archive from 1990, written by former intelligence correspondent and analyst Yossi Melman. Sanders, who is vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, told Melman that in 1963 he spent a number of months in Kibbutz Sha'ar Ha'amakim, in northern Israel, as a guest of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement.

In the interview, published under the title "The First Socialist" during his first campaign to the senate, Sanders said he grew up "in a Jewish environment in Brooklyn, New York, in which the Holocaust and Israel were always important." The article says that after spending time on the kibbutz, he seems to have lost his connection to Israel, Zionism and Judaism, but fails to offer any further details, instead asking the then-hopeful senator why he chose to settle in Vermont.

Sanders' campaign refused to confirm the name of the kibbutz the senator had volunteered on. Now all that is left is to discover what happened during his time in the Galilee, after which he divorced his first wife.

Did the Sanders’ stay on the kibbutz have anything to do with the divorce? And what happened at the kibbutz that has led him to decline to divulge its name? These questions remain unanswered.

In the early 1960s, before he began his political career in the United States, Sanders says he spent a few months volunteering on a kibbutz. Journalists, including Haaretz’s Judy Maltz, the political blogger Tal Schneider and overseas writers, have collected evidence indicating that the kibbutz where Sanders may have stayed was a veteran kibbutz near the sea, whose residents or volunteers were from South America (particularly Argentina), and they raised vegetables.

According to these descriptions, the place in question may have been Zikim, Sa’ad or Ga’ash (out of those, Ga’ash is closest to the sea), but could have been another kibbutz.

Larry Sanders, Bernie’s brother, also tried a taste of the communal life for a while during that period, in Kibbutz Matzuva (in the Western Galilee) and Kibbutz Yotvata (in the southern Negev). In an interview with Maltz, Larry Sanders said he didn’t think the kibbutz where his brother stayed was in the Negev (which would rule out Zikim and Sa’ad).

Bernie Sanders was born in Brooklyn, in 1941, to Jewish parents. His father, Eli Sanders, was born in Poland and moved to the United States in 1921. His mother, Dorothy Glassberg, was born in New York; her parents had immigrated from Poland and Russia. Many of Sanders’ relatives were killed in the Holocaust.

In 1964, Sanders completed a degree in political science at the University of Chicago and married his first wife, Deborah Shiling (today Messing), with whom he came to the kibbutz. The couple divorced in mid-1966 after being married for 18 months.

After his time in Israel, Sanders settled in Vermont and moved ahead in local politics – from mayor to congressman and senator. He had a son, Levi Sanders, born to Susan Campbell Mott, and later married Jane O’Meara Driscoll, to whom he is still married.

In October 2015, the Kibbutz Movement posted a call on its Facebook page to “help us solve the mystery.” Now, at last, it seems to be solved.

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