Date: April 23, 2019
“In 1963, Sanders and Deborah Shiling, whom he met in college, volunteered for several months on the Israeli kibbutz Sha’ar HaAmakim. They married in 1964 and bought a summer home in Vermont; they had no children and divorced in 1966. Sanders’s son, Levi Sanders, was born in 1969 to girlfriend Susan Campbell Mott. In 1988, Sanders married Jane O’Meara Driscoll (née Mary Jane O’Meara), who later became president of Burlington College, in Burlington, Vermont. The day after their wedding, the couple visited the Soviet Union as part of an official delegation in his capacity as mayor, a trip he ironically called a honeymoon. Sanders considers Jane’s three children—Dave Driscoll, Carina Driscoll, and Heather Titus (née Driscoll)—to be his own. He also has seven grandchildren.
In December 1987, during his tenure as mayor, Sanders recorded a folk album titled We Shall Overcome with 30 Vermont musicians. As Sanders was not skilled at singing, he performed his vocals in a talking blues style. Sanders appeared in a cameo role in the 1988 comedy-drama film Sweet Hearts Dance, playing a man who distributes candy to young trick-or-treaters. In 1999, he acted in the film My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception, playing the role of Rabbi Manny Shevitz. In this role he mourned the Brooklyn Dodgers moving to Los Angeles, reflecting Sanders’s own upbringing in Brooklyn. On February 6, 2016, Sanders was a guest star alongside Larry David on Saturday Night Live, playing a Polish immigrant on a steamship that was sinking near the Statue of Liberty.
Sanders’s elder brother, Larry, lives in England. He was a Green Party county councillor, representing the East Oxford division on Oxfordshire County Council, until he retired from the Council in 2013. Larry ran as a Green Party candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon in the 2015 British general election and came in fifth. Bernie told CNN, “I owe my brother an enormous amount. It was my brother who actually introduced me to a lot of my ideas.”
Sanders had a typical upbringing for his generation of American Jews: his father generally attended synagogue only on Yom Kippur; he attended public schools while his mother “chafed” at his yeshiva Sunday schooling at a Hebrew school; and their religious observances were mostly limited to Passover seders with their neighbors. Larry Sanders said, “They were very pleased to be Jews, but didn’t have a strong belief in God.” Bernie had a bar mitzvah at the historic Kingsway Jewish Center in Midwood, Brooklyn, where he grew up.
In 1963, in cooperation with the Labor Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, Sanders and his first wife volunteered at Sha’ar HaAmakim, a kibbutz in northern Israel. His motivation for the trip was as much socialistic as it was Zionistic.
As mayor of Burlington, Sanders allowed a Chabad public menorah to be placed at city hall, an action contested by the local ACLU chapter. He publicly inaugurated the Hanukkah menorah and performed the Jewish religious ritual of blessing Hanukkah candles. His early and strong support played a significant role in the now widespread public menorah celebrations around the globe. When asked about his Jewish heritage, Sanders has said he is “proud to be Jewish”.
Sanders has rarely spoken about religion and has avoided directly answering or downplayed questions about it. He has stated he is “not particularly religious” and “not actively involved” with organized religion. He has been described as a “secular Jew who does not practice any religion” and a “secular Jew” who lacks “God talk”, and he has called himself a “secular Jew without strong ties to organized religion”. A press package issued by his office states, without elaboration, “Religion: Jewish”, while the Washington Post describes him as potentially “one of the few modern presidents to present himself as not religious.” He has said he believes in God, though not necessarily in a traditional manner: “I think everyone believes in God in their own ways,” he said. “To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.” Larry has described Bernie as “quite substantially not religious”.