Perhaps it is appropriate that it was in this harsh, frigid January that one of the lead composers of the soundtrack of our Jewish camp summers has “gone to graveyard,” to quote one of his best known songs.
“To everything there is a season,” Pete Seeger sang, catapulting the stoic biblical wisdom of Kohelet to the top of the pop charts – and more significantly, shaping our young minds and hearts back in the 1970s.
In those summers, the Vietnam war was simmering down and the PLO war of terrorism was simmering up, and the details were far from our eyes, isolated as we were from television news and daily newspapers. But Pete Seeger’s message burrowed its way into our hearts: “A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”
This was long after his group, the Weavers, broke up after being blacklisted in the McCarthy era, and a decade after Joan Baez graced Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington with his “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” a song we sang in both English and Hebrew. We had no idea that one of the Hebrew songs we sang – Tzena, Tzena, Tzena – had been popularized in America by the Weavers.
We just knew the songs, and the name that reappeared in the dittoed and mimeographed songbooks.
Looking back on those sunny July days, singing at the meals, it’s hard to overestimate how much his concise words affected us and our generation. One by one, the giants of the 20th century have moved on, scholars and sages and institution builders, but perhaps no gift was greater than those entrusted to us by Pete Seeger: “The hammer of justice, the bell of freedom, and the song about love between our brothers and sisters all over this land.”
May his memory be for a blessing.