The Times They Are A-Changin’

The Times They Are A-Changin’

This post is by Hillel Schenker:
In 1963, two months after Dr. Martin Luther King said that he had a dream, and Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary sang “How many roads must a man walk down/before they can call him a man” before hundreds of thousands of freedom marchers in the heart of Washington, I came from New York to live on Kibbutz Barkai in Israel, a few kilometers from the West Bank border.

On Friday, November 22nd, the kibbutz held an evening of local artists, and as a product of the folk song revolution sweeping America, I sang, together with my even younger wife Nava, the first Israeli rendition of Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” This came naturally, given that she grew up in a progressive housing complex in the Bronx. One of her older brother’s friends was Richie Havens, a child of one of the few black families in the neighborhood, who was to sing “Freedom” a few years later at Woodstock, and her father had fought against fascism in Spain in the Lincoln Brigade, which inspired so many songs of struggle like “Viva La Quince Brigada” and others.

As for myself, after 8 years of studying the piano like a good Jewish boy, I had discovered the guitar, the “People’s Song Book” and “Sing Out!” magazine, which had inspired a revival of folk and protest music. As a contemporary of the new generation of singer/songwriters like Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and Paul Simon, it seemed natural to pick up a guitar and sing, in Washington Square, on the New York subway or before the lawn in Washington in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

And it seemed natural to sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” on our first Friday night on a kibbutz, a noble experiment in communal living with a national and a universal message, which philosopher Martin Buber had declared was “an experiment which has not failed.” [But] That evening we were stunned to learn via the BBC that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, a man who when he had been elected had offered promise of a new vision for America and the world. And even if his record was flawed, the promise had remained until it was so tragically cut short on that dramatic day in Dallas. Later more promises were cut short with the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King.

Still, Sam Cooke sang “A Change is Gonna Come.” And later Lee Dorsey sang “Yes We Can.” And today we are still trying to grasp the incredible image of President-Elect Barack Obama, standing alongside Vice President-elect Joe Biden, with the promise of a better future for America and the world.

As Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad – Israel, I have found myself giving an endless marathon of interviews in the past few months to the Israeli and international media.

On November 4th, on the day of the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin which cut short another promise, I climbed three flights of stairs in a crumbling building in the poor and crowded religious town of Bnai Brak to give an interview to the ultra-Orthodox radio station “Radio Kol Chai”. One of the station’s staff said that all of his friends in the United States are afraid of Barack Hussein Obama and intend to vote for McCain.

I responded that the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews are only 10-15% of American Jewry, that all the rest are either Reform, Conservative or secular, and that about 75% of the American Jewish community were going to vote for Obama. I added that he should be concerned that as a fundamentalist evangelical Christian, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, apparently believes in the rapture and end of days scenario, which says that all Jews should ingather into Israel and then convert or go to hell. The senior interviewer at the station, an intelligent secular guy who was born in South Africa and had been deputy editor of the right-wing “Makor Rishon” newspaper, understood where Obama was coming from, and why he was inspiring the younger generation.

Later that evening, Brazilian TV interviewed me at Mike’s Place on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, asking about my expectations from a prospective Obama administration. When we finished the interviewer said to me that “the hopes of billions of people around the world are with Obama tonight.”

On the morning of November 5th, the day after the elections, I found myself on the roof of the Arab-owned Aboulafiya Restaurant in Old Jaffa, overlooking the Mediterranean beach and the Tel Aviv shoreline. This time, a powerful reflection of the changes taking place in the Middle Eastern media landscape, it was Al Jazeera, which has offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The crew, an English woman, a New Zealander and some Israeli Jews and Arabs, reminded me of the types that were drawn to Abie Nathan’s Voice of Peace radio station, motivated by a mixture of adventure and idealism (and unlike the Voice of Peace presumably a decent salary).

In constant contact with there home base in Doha the capital of Qatar, a live broadcast was bouncing back and forth from Gaza to Ramallah to Tel Aviv. The counterpart commentator representing the Israeli right was former Israeli ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon, who recently came out of the closet as an extreme right-winger, joining Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party. As we argued (politely, in whispers, about their transfer plan, which he insisted on calling a “reorganization of the borders” plan) Jackie the interviewer firmly said to us, like an English schoolmarm trying to bring back the Mandate to maintain order, “Quiet! We are about to go live.”

Ayalon tried to correct history, saying that he was “misinterpreted” if anyone believes that he supported McCain, and he added a sound-bite that the interviewer liked, that he hopes and believes that “Obama will treat the Iranians with an iron fist inside a velvet diplomatic glove.”
I said that, from the perspective of my dual role as Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad-Israel and Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, Obama’s victory creates new opportunities for progress in the Middle East, and in the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace process. While noting that no one should doubt that the Obama administration will maintain the so-called “special relationship” between America and Israel, the important thing is that in addition to providing political, military and economic support, his administration has committed itself to being engaged, from the beginning, in actively helping to promote the peace process. And I added that this should and will be based on active cooperation with Europe and the Arab Peace Initiative.

The times they are a-changing. New opportunities are a-coming. Yes we can.

By | 2008-11-09T17:24:00-05:00 November 9th, 2008|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Yehuda Erdman November 12, 2008 at 2:57 am - Reply

    As I read this post, my mind also went back to the 60’s, when I was growing up in London, Hachshara in Sussex and Aliya to Kibbutz Amiad in Upper Galilee. I also remain a great fan of Dylan and Baez and others, and never cease to be amazed at how true so much of the sentiment from back then is still today. Especially Dylan with some of the most inspiring lyrics written, which at the deepest level are incredibly philosophical.
    So with my chaverim in British Habonim, we protested about Vietnam, Apartheid in South Africa, Nuclear weapons, persecution of Jews in the USSR and Arab states etc. Surprisingly, as with Hillel Schenker’s comment that despite all the frustrated optimism at the time, nevertheless much later Obama is elected, so with South Africa and to a great extent nuclear weapons.
    Another words the timescale to resolve major human issues is often generational.
    May I also congratulate Hillel for his courage in confronting the Israeli equivalent of “red necks”.

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