Archive for January 18th, 2009

Yarrow: ‘Light One Candle’

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

And then, at the end of Indyk’s talk (see post, below), a special guest: Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame.

He stood on a small stage, guitar resting on the NJDC podium, and, with a still-strong voice, he began to sing:

Don’t let … the light go out

It’s lasted for so many years ….

Don’t let the light go out

Let it shine through our love and our tears …

Before long, we are clapping and singing along with him.

Peter Yarrow, who sang — “with Paul and Mary,” as he put it — Blowing in the Wind and If I had a Hammer — at the March on Washington, in the summer of 1963, in front of 250,000 people on the mall, including my then 19-year-old mom; the march where Martin Luther King proclaimed: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“Our commitment is not to victory,” Yarrow said, “but to justice.”

Peter Yarrow, who wrote “Puff the Magic Dragon.” (As if I believe that. As If the song that I sing so many nights to my four year old, Meyer, at bedtime, was actually written by anybody.)

He finished his first song.

“I have watched in abject dismay as the things that I’ve advocated for over the years have been whittled away,” he said, in front of maybe 40 or so people left in the salon. “And not just by policy. The TV shows that are premised on the idea that humiliating other people is a sport …”

“I believe if we can address that,” said Peter Yarrow, “we as Jews can do a lot to heal this nation. As long as we have not lost that light.”

I’m going to sing This Land is Your Land, he said. “When I sing This Land is Your Land, I’m singing it for the United States, but also for the world, and, incidentally, for Israel.”

And all around me …

I heard the mishpocha calling — see what I mean?

This land is made for you and me.

“Truth and justice, not victory,” said Peter Yarrow, whose music got me through countless family car trips to campgrounds in the Adirondack mountains; trips, with my two sisters in the back seat, that until the very moment mom popped in those cassette tapes, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. “Because there’s no one here we want to defeat.”

Is it 1963? In that salon, in that moment, it’s starting to feel like it.

I think it’s very clear, he sings

That this land’s still made for you and me.

And I think about Bruce Springsteen, who sang the same song for Obama during the campaign, in Columbus, Ohio. I’d driven down for the event, and watched it, standing mesmerized on a sun-drenched field, with my brother-in-law, Jaron.

Bruce had ended the same song with:

and some are wonderin’ … if this land’s still made for you and me.

That was before the election.

And I think about how, through all the joy of that campaign, there was always a tinge of pain in it for me — the part of me that wondered if it was possible, in 2008 America — to elect a black man with the middle name Hussein as president. The part of me that, despite what I always told myself, was afraid and unsure.

Dragons live forever. But not so hatred, and fear, and prejudice.

We’re singing a different song, now.

Indyk: Jews ‘Have a Responsibility to Get Behind’ Obama

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, said this morning that Obama needs to take an active role in Middle East peacemaking, adding: “We as a [Jewish] community have to abandon the notion that — oy gevalt — pressure on Israel” is somehow bad for the Jewish state.

The alternative, he said, is that “Israel will have failed terrorists states on all of its borders.”

Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East policy, spoke at a breakfast event at Marriott Metro Center, sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council.

He said many in the Jewish community were mistaken, during the Bush years, to conclude that Bush was terrific for Israel, because he supported Israel with a blank check. Bush’s approach for the first seven years of his administration, Indyk said, was to let the parties negotiate amongst themselves — and that doesn’t work. The U.S., he said, has to be willing to play an active role.

Still, he said there are lessons to be gleaned from the Clinton administration, which, he noted, also ultimately failed to achieve a lasting solution.

Clinton, Indyk said, attempted to forge a new Middle East through peacemaking. Bush tried to do it through warmongering. Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he said, must approach the quagmire with much more humility — influence what we can, without setting out specifically to mold the region to suit our own national interests.

Noting that, just this morning, Hamas ordered a cease fire in Gaza (after Israel unilaterally did the same last night), he said he was hopeful that Gazans would come to understand that there are serious and unacceptable consequences to the terrorists organization’s continued unprovoked assaults on Israel.

He said the Obama administration should take to heart the perspective that “We’re not talking about a two-state solution; we are talking about a 23-state solution.” Which is to say, peace between Israel and the Palestinians would also mean “peace with the entire Arab world.”

Indyk was not a Pollyanna. He spoke about the real and deep divisions that exist in Israel — and among Palestinians. He noted that Iran is moving ever closer to achieving its nuclear ambitions, and that Ahmadinejad continues to stoke hatred of Jews and Israel on the Arab street.

But it was hard not to detect a note of optimism humming just beneath the surface of his words: that with this change here in Washington, Obama may just be at a moment of rare possibility for the Middle East.

And we, the Jewish community in America, “have a responsibility to get behind him.”

Arriving in Washington, DC

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Driving down the George Washington Parkway, along the Potomac last night, with the lights of the city rising through the trees, it was hard not to feel it. The Lincoln Memorial. The Jefferson Memorial. They positively shined.

I crossed into the city late, after a seven hour drive from Ohio, over the 14th St. Bridge. I drove North on 14th Street, passing the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and then, at the mall, I stopped at a traffic signal. Ahead of me, the street was awash in brake lights. Far in the distance, by Pennsylvania Ave., emergency lights flashed, blocking off the road to traffic. Then, I glanced up to my left, and was almost shocked to see the Washington Monument, ringed with American flags.

How many times have I seen that monument? I have pictures somewhere from a family trip — I was probably 13 years old — with my sisters, my mom and dad. I’m on the ground, looking up through the viewfinder, framing my sister Becky’s face, her brown braids hanging down, monument rising up forever above her. I lived in this town for much of my twenties — the Clinton years — and still, I can honestly say, I don’t think I ever actually saw the Washington Monument once.

And yet there I was last night, stopped at a light, the damn thing soaring — truly soaring — like some kind of a beacon into the night, and all those flags — American flags — and what I felt was: This is my town.


And what I felt, as the light turned and I plunged across the mall, and saw dozens more American flags, slanting up proudly beneath every window of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel: It’s good to be home.