Israeli Facebook Campaign Seeks to Crack Mystery of Bernie Sanders’ Kibbutz

U.S. presidential candidate stays mum on identity of his kibbutz, but Israelis are now harnessing the power of social media to solve the riddle.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Israel’s kibbutzim are finally stepping up to the challenge that has eluded so many: finding out exactly which one of them hosted Bernie Sanders during his short stint as a volunteer in the country more than 50 years ago.

The Kibbutz Movement – the umbrella organization for Israel’s 256 kibbutzim – has launched a campaign aimed at revealing the identity of his hosts.

The U.S. presidential candidate stars on the movement's page in a doctored photo wearing the quintessentially Israeli “tembel” bucket hat, with a smaller and much older black-and-white photo of himself as a young man beside it.

 Referring to the communal eating space where kibbutz members and volunteers once took all their meals together, the post asks:  “Remember him from the dining hall?”

A Jew and a democratic socialist, Sanders has at various times described the time he spent on a kibbutz after he graduated college as a formative experience. Precisely which kibbutz he was on remains a mystery to this day.

Questions submitted by reporters to Sanders’s media advisers on the matter have gone unanswered. Even the presidential candidate’s brother and one of his oldest and closest friends, when contacted by Haaretz, have said they could not recall the name of the kibbutz.

“Help us solve the mystery,” the Kibbutz Movement wrote on its Facebook page, which has more than 14,000 fans, noting that Sanders spent “several months” sometime between 1964 and 1966 on a kibbutz.

Referencing the collective nature of kibbutz life, the post concludes: “We decided to use the collective kibbutz wisdom to find out: Where did Bernie volunteer? We invite you to share and tag kibbutz members who can help solve the mystery.”

Among the numerous responses to the post, many were skeptical that Sanders could have forgotten the name of the Kibbutz. Humor abounded: from questioning whether his reticence had something to do with his wife back then, Deborah Shiling, from whom he divorced in 1966, to wondering whether he had made a bad decision leaving the kibbutz and going back to the United States.

“The winner of the search gets one weekend free from washing dishes,” joked one person, referring to one of the less desirable jobs on a kibbutz.

When contacted by Haaretz several months ago, Larry Sanders, who lives in England, said he remembered his younger brother telling him there were quite a few South Americans on his kibbutz. But aside from that, he was unable to remember any other details that might help identify it.