Revealed: The mystery kibbutz that once hosted Bernie Sanders

Veteran journalist Yossi Melman names the place where the Democratic hopeful told him he spent several months in 1963

Kibbutz Sha'ar HaAmakim in 2008 (John Dodo/WikiCommons)
Kibbutz Sha'ar HaAmakim in 2008 (John Dodo/WikiCommons)

WASHINGTON — The identity of the kibbutz on which Bernie Sanders spent several months in 1963 has finally come to light, after a veteran Israeli journalist announced that the Democratic hopeful had named it in an interview with him more than 25 years ago.

Sanders, a senator from Vermont now running for the Democratic presidential nod, spoke to then-Haaretz correspondent Yossi Melman in 1990, on the eve of his election to the US House of Representatives as a socialist. He named the kibbutz where he volunteered as Sha’ar HaAmakim.

The newspaper, like others in Israeli and Jewish media, had tried previously to locate the kibbutz as Sanders’ campaign gained traction, but until Melman said Thursday on Twitter that Sanders had named the kibbutz, no one had tracked this particular story in its archive.

In the article, reproduced Thursday on Haaretz’s website, Sanders tells Melman that he visited Israel in 1963 as a guest of the leftist Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement and stayed at its affiliated kibbutz, northeast of Haifa.

Sha’ar HaAmakim was founded in 1935 by immigrants from Romania and Yugoslavia who had been trained in farming techniques. The kibbutz still includes farmland and has a flour mill and a dairy, but its primary income is currently from the manufacture of solar panels, according to its website.

It’s not clear what drew Sanders to Israel; his older brother, Larry, was spending some time there. He also had earned some renown as a civil rights activist at the University of Chicago.

Sanders has been reticent during this campaign regarding matters of his Jewish upbringing and his time in Israel, where he traveled with his first wife, Deborah Shiling, who also was Jewish. His campaign has turned away queries about his Israel stay.

It’s not exactly clear when he was in Israel; although he tells Haaretz he was there in 1963, he did not graduate from university until 1964. He also had not married Shiling by June 1964, when she is listed as a maid of honor at her sister’s Baltimore wedding in a New York Times notice.

Sanders, born in Brooklyn to a Polish immigrant whose family perished in the Holocaust, had divorced Shiling and was living in Vermont by the late 1960s.

At the time of the interview with Melman, Sanders was the mayor of Burlington, the state’s largest city, and was a sharp critic of the foreign policies of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, particularly in Central America.

He tells Melman that “as a Jew, I’m embarrassed by Israel’s involvement” in Central America, accusing the country as acting as a front for the American government and delivering arms to repressive regimes. He also says he would like to see greater pressure on Israel to compromise on the Palestinian issue.

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