Sunday, February 28, 2021

Woody Guthrie Singing of Rebuilding the Holy Temple

Woody (Woodrow Wilson) Guthrie needs no introduction regarding his stature and presence within the American folk ballad scene. The January 29, 1961 get-together that Bob Dylan sought out with the ailing Guthrie in New Jersey five days after he arrived from Minnesota to New York is classic folk song history, resulting in the “Song to Woody”.

Guthrie’s second wife was Marjorie Mazia Greenblatt. And she was Jewish. Her parents were Isidore Greenblatt and Aliza nee Aharonson. Majorie’s mother was a well-known Yiddish poetess born in the Bukivina region and spending her early years Mohilev although her vibrant memories of the Ozaryntsi shtetl were her fondest. And her parents were Zionists. Among her accomplishments and positions was the founding of the Atlantic City branch of the Zionist Organization of America, senior membership in Hadassah and the Jewish National Fund and serving as national president of Pioneer Women.  In 1920, Isadore traveled to then Mandate Palestine to set up a fruit-canng business in preparation for immigration but returned. Another attempt at Aliyah some thirty years later failed as well but Aliza was a committed activist on behalf of the Jewish homeland.

Woody met Majorie while in New York and married her in 1945. The couple and their eventuall four children lived nearby the Greenblatt’s in Brooklyn and Woody became close to his mother-in-law and picked up some Jewish knowledge (Arlo was sent to Hebrew school tutoring). He ended up writing several songs with Jewish themes and one of them, for Chanukah, was recorded for his close firend and production associate Moses Asch who headed Folkways Records.

The song, “The Many and the Few”, contains twenty verses, opening with the proclamation of Cyrus and goes on to mention Ezra, Alexander the Great, Hannah, Mattathias, the Talmud, Jerusalem and much more. It ends with thanks to “God we are seeds of the Jews”. The song is unabashedly Zionist and Jewish through and through.

Guthrie has Cyrus giving the order that enables the Jews to go back home “To build your holy temple again, In the land of Palestine”. The Jews go “Back to Eretz Yisroel’s land” to work it “with plow and rake and hoe”, blessing “the works of our hands”. The Jews are urged to “keep your Torah true” which will result in them being “fertile and multiply”.

Two verses are worth quoting in full:

If My name is Jerusalem where Judah came back

To build up my Temple once more

To cut down the weeds and thorny brush

That grows ‘round my windows and doors

Whole stones, whole stones, we’ll build and pray

To God as a wholehearted Jew

God’s love the hateful many did place

In the hands of a God loving few”.

Indeed, this land of Israel is our land.



nealhugh said...

Great story.

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