Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders, who could become America’s first Jewish president, has been less talkative about his religious practices and beliefs than many aspirants to the highest office, leaving unanswered seemingly innocuous questions like which kibbutz he stayed on with his first wife in a visit to Israel in the early '60s.
Volunteering on one of the communal settlements, which were often based on agriculture, was a rite of passage for many young American Jews.
In recent weeks, Sanders has made several references to his belief in God and what that means for him. But the name of the kibbutz remained a mystery until Thursday, when a clue was tweeted out by an Israeli reporter who interviewed Sanders 25 years ago.
Since Sanders declared his run for the presidency, his campaign has declined to answer questions about the kibbutz. The candidate’s older brother, Larry, said he could recall few details beyond the fact that Bernie met Argentine volunteers there who were interested in the viability of such an agrarian communal system on a bigger scale.
In Israel, the Kibbutz Movement — the umbrella organization for the 250 communal settlements — launched a Facebook campaign to find out where Sanders stayed, featuring the senator’s edited picture in a traditional Israeli “tembel” hat. Reporter Naomi Zeveloff published an article in the Forward about the search, prompting readers to write in, wondering why Sanders was so reluctant to disclose any details.
Then on Thursday Israeli journalist Yossi Melman tweeted that Sanders had told him the name of the kibbutz — Shaar Haamakim, meaning “Gate of the Valleys” — in a 1990 interview.
“Mystery solved!” exclaimed Zeveloff in a phone call Thursday evening, explaining that the Shaar Haamakim was founded in 1935 by immigrants from Romania and Yugoslavia and that it was affiliated with the socialist youth movement.
Melman’s original article, titled “The First Socialist” was reproduced on the Haaretz Hebrew website. In it, according to Zeveloff, Melman wrote that Sanders visited Israel “as a guest of Hashomer Hatzair [a secular Jewish youth movement with socialist ideals] and spent some time on kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim. But upon returning to the United States he forgot about Israel, Zionism, and Judaism.”