Author Archives: Beth Kander

Beth Kander

About Beth Kander

Beth Kander is a writer, who also helps coordinate communication and development efforts for the ISJL.

Singing With Mr. Seeger

Yesterday, I learned that Pete Seeger had died.peteseeger

I didn’t hear about it first on the news. No, I heard about the passing of the legendary icon and folk singer through social media. A friend tagged me in some photos on Facebook.

The photos were from my college days, when several students at Brandeis had the privilege of learning from and singing with this iconic figure. Mr. Seeger.

I knew that it had been my sophomore or junior year of college, but I couldn’t remember the exact date, so I went digging. I found an old newsletter from Brandeis University’s International Center for Justice, Ethics, and Public Life. That’s where I confirmed the date and context of his concert and residency at my university:

“Building Community through Songs of Social Justice: Pete Seeger and Jane Sapp performed in concert to a sold-out crowd at Brandeis University’s Spingold Theatre on Monday, January 29th, 2001. Student groups performed during the concert: Women of Faith, Songleaders of the Brandeis Reform Chavurah, and Spur of the Moment.”

PeteSeegerconcertThe memories did not quite come flooding back, but rather began trickling in slowly as I looked at the pictures. It was more than a decade ago. I remembered rehearsing with Mr. Seeger, and with Jane Sapp, an activist and gospel artist. Mr. Seeger was quiet, during the rehearsal; he was frail, even then, and I remember folks being worried that his voice would go out. But he listened to our questions, nodded along, whisper-sang some of the words as we practiced.

There was only one rehearsal when we were all together, as I recall – just one night to run through the basics and the numbers everyone would sing together, and soon thereafter we would be sharing a stage with Mr. Seeger. The man who wrote “If I Had a Hammer.”

If I Had a Hammer, y’all. That’s one of those forever-songs; one of those songs that seem like they just always must have existed.

You don’t get to meet the people who write those songs, let alone sing with them.

I remember being nervous backstage, less so for myself (I was singing with a group; had I a solo, I would have been a puddle on the floor) and more so for Mr. Seeger. He was so slight, so frail at the rehearsal. I was afraid the stage lights and the crowd might knock him over.

But here’s the part of my memory that remains clear: The pure magic of Mr. Seeger in front of an audience.

Faced with the crowd, his eyes lit up. His back straightened. He grinned. He gripped his banjo, and his fingers flew across those strings faster than any normal human octogenarian’s fingers should be ably to move.

“You know the words,” he said. And people did.

And people sang with him. Not just those of us who got to be onstage, but everyone in that room. Everyone. Everyone was singing with Mr. Seeger, and laughing at his stories of traveling with Woody Guthrie and other legends. He’d tell a story, and you’d half expect Paul Bunyan to feature in it. Then he’d start singing again, and so would we. And while he’s no longer here, people will still be singing his words, all over this land.

I looked again at the date of the concert: January 29, 2001.

Exactly thirteen years ago today, I was singing with Mr. Seeger. Today, I’m remembering him. May his memory be a blessing.

This post originally appeared on Beth Kander’s personal blog, and is reprinted here with permission.  Like this post? Join the conversation through MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.

Posted on January 31, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Southern Snow Days

It’s a Southern Snow Day, y’all! This means a few things. Everyone should be careful on the roads or stay home, of course; safety first.

Here’s what else a Southern Snow Day really means:

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#SNOWDAY

1. Everyone is required to post SOMETHING on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram about the fact that there is SNOW ON STUFF. (Seriously, if you don’t have a social media account, you get one. This is why Facebook was invented!)

2. The grocery stores are really, really low on milk, bread, and eggs. As one Southern friend of mine cleverly pointed out: “We will protect ourselves with a layer of French Toast!”

3. Kids get confused, and then delighted. ISJL COO Michele Schipper reports: “My son had -to quote him- a ‘panic attack’ when he woke up late for school, and didn’t understand why I didn’t get him up!” Once the shock wears off, though, most Southern kids love snow days, even if there’s not really enough snow to make an actual snow man. Snow ball fights for your Lego people, anyone?!

4. We get teased a lot by our loved ones up North, scoffing at our big ol’ reaction to one or two inches of snow. And yes, all right, all right. We know it’s worse up North. We know. But seriously, we’re not used to seeing weather app updates like these:

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(Of course, take note of the projections for later this week… 70 degrees by Saturday? This is why allergies are bad down here! But hey, if you don’t like the weather, wait a day or two!)

Stay warm and stay safe, whether you’re in the South and this white stuff is a novelty or whether you’re somewhere where this wintry weather and snowy-cold is getting old by this point. Cocoa helps, either way!

Posted on January 28, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

From Every Hill and Molehill of Mississippi

mlk-prayingThe Civil Rights movement is once again front and center here in Mississippi. Last year was the 50th anniversary of Medgar Evers‘ murder; this summer will mark 50 years since Freedom Summer.

Today, as we reflect on the life and death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., some of his greatest lessons are also front and center, and very evident in settings near and far: the power of place, and the even greater power of community.

We are here in Mississippi, the controversial heart-center of Freedom Summer, the end point for the freedom rides. Mississippi, whose work-cut-out-for-us reality was spelled out in Dr. King’s most famous of speeches, “I Have a Dream”:

From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, let freedom ring. But not only that: Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

A few weeks ago, from our desks here in Mississippi, several ISJL staff members joined a great video conference hosted by Jewish Women’s Archive, to go over their fantastic Freedom Summer curriculum resources. A few days ago, the staff here all gathered to discuss a film about inequality and discuss how we, as individuals and as an institution, can be a part of positive change. We partner with a diverse group of organizations, working to that end – Jewish and Christian and those of many other faiths, Southern and Northern and international.

Today, we also wanted to share an excerpt from our friends at Jewish& in which African American Jews share their thoughts on Dr. King’s legacy. Here’s a brief excerpt, and we strongly encourage you to read the entire piece:

Sandra-LawsonREVSandra Lawson, a military veteran and social activist, calls Atlanta home. She is currently a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

“I grew up in a pretty typical black family in the 1980’s. We had a picture of King on our wall and my parents had records of a few of his speeches. My parents were not activists. They grew up poor, as sharecroppers in the South, but they instilled in me a black pride that one could hear in the song from James Brown’s “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud.” King helped my parents see a better future, not just for me and my brother but for themselves as well. As a rabbinical student, and a child of southern sharecroppers, I see King as one of the most prophetic voices ever and he reminds me of why I want to be a rabbi which is to help to make the world a better place for all.”

Continue reading here>>

Wherever we are and whatever our background, we can play a role in, as Sandra Lawson says, making the world “a better place for all.” All people, in all places. Let freedom ring from every mountain and molehill of Mississippi!

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Posted on January 20, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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