Israeli Kibbutz Members Take Pride in Bernie Sanders' Socialist Values

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Illustration showing photo of Bernie Sanders in which  a traditional kibbutz 'tembel' hat has been photo-shopped on his head, and a black and white photo insert showing Sanders as a young man.
Illustration. Bernie Sanders in a traditional kibbutz 'tembel' hat and, inset, Sanders as a young man. Credit: The Kibbutz Movement's Facebook page

An Israeli kibbutz is taking pride in a former volunteer, United States Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders - even though no one on the communal farm can quite remember him.

In a 1990 interview in Israel's Haaretz newspaper, Sanders, then running for Congress, said he had volunteered for several months as a young man at Kibbutz Shaar Haamakim, where socialist roots run deep on the edge of the Biblical Jezreel Valley.

Sanders, 74, had mentioned in the past that he had worked on a kibbutz, but its name had remained a mystery until Haaretz republished its interview with him this month.

Veteran kibbutz member Albert Ely, 79, of Sha'ar Ha'amakim remembers that Sanders went by the name 'Bernard,' not Bernie. Credit: Rami Shllush

There are no records at Shaar Haamakim of Sanders' stint in 1963, and none of its veteran members can say for sure they ever met him.

That hasn't stopped journalists from streaming into the community to try to dig for details about Sanders' experience at the kibbutz, where the Brooklyn-born Vermont senator, who is Jewish, is now the talk of the farm.

Kibbutz elder Albert Ely told Reuters he couldn't put a face to the name but he remembered that "an American called Bernard" had once been a volunteer.

"That is the only thing that I remember....that stayed in my mind that there is an American called Bernard," said Ely as he recalled the days when he mingled with volunteers at the avocado grove.

Other kibbutz elders, such as Yoav Alba, voiced hope Sanders' days at the kibbutz would "influence him along the road".

Ori Shalev said although he does not remember him personally, he hopes Sanders took something "Jewish" back home from his experience on the kibbutz.

"We don't remember him personally. There were people, we took care of them, we spoke with them, maybe we even impressed them, there are those that also took home Judaism with them, although to my understanding, Sanders is a Jew who is not really interested in emphasizing his Jewishness, that's what I understood but I am certain that everybody took something home with him from the Kibbutz," said Shalev as he dined with his elder peers at the kibbutz dining hall.

"Everybody mentions it. Now that the election campaign began, there is great happiness in the entire kibbutz," said Gilad Hershkikovich, who tends to its cows.

"I'm sure he had a good time here."

"The fact that Bernie Sanders' name was linked with Kibbutz Shaar Haamakim is a big honour for the kibbutz," said its chairman, Yair Merom. "The values that Bernie Sanders speaks about and his ideology in the presidential race - the modern socio-democratic values - are incredibly compatible with Kibbutz Shaar Haamakim."