It was in 1974, out of a sense of post-Yom Kippur War trauma-and-relief and the widespread Jewish affirmation on campuses that arose in defense of Israel, that the musical group Safam was formed in Boston.
They described their music as Jewish folk-rock. If there were a hall of fame for North American Jewish music, they would deserve a place in it. They wrote and performed many songs that were iconic for their times and will remain timeless in their cultural and historic significance.
One of Safam’s early songs, World of our Fathers, was a long-verse ballad about a young Jewish immigrant arriving in America at the turn of the last century escaping the pogroms and persecutions in Russia. The young immigrant is lost at the beginning of his new life, but he acknowledges:
If it wasn’t for my people, I don’t know what I’d do,
And I thank the Lord above me that I was born a Jew.
Typically, the young immigrant works hard, brings his siblings to America, raises a family and builds a life for himself. Throughout his years in the new land he constantly is guided by his mother’s last words to him.
Just don’t forget where you came from, my son
And the world of your fathers, you’ll soon leave behind.
Just keep the faith of your people wherever you go,
There a friend you will find.
The immigrant’s children enjoy the many benefits of their father’s material success. Despite his pleas, they grow distant from the values that he cherishes, from the world of his father. And he notices. “Of their father they would grow ashamed.”
But the years are not all unkind. Near the end of his days he lives with one of his grandchildren who asks him to teach his great grandchildren a “bissel Yiddish.” He takes great comfort in this request and sees in it proof that the world of his fathers – i.e., the traditions and the faith – will not be lost.
There were times, so many times when I feared that all was lost;
We had come so far, so fast, that I wondered what the cost.
But now I see my father’s world begin to rise
In my great grandchildren’s eyes!
The song is uplifting and ends with klezmer styling and phrasing that impart a feeling of hope and of optimism.
But would Safam write today that they see the rise of our fathers’ world in the unfolding lives of young Jews? They could not do so. There is no such rise. The evidence is simply not there.
To preserve, enhance and adapt where necessary, the world of our fathers and mothers, we must be able to provide comprehensive Jewish education to our children and to their children for every generation. If, however, the tuition for Jewish education is unaffordable for the majority of families, the life-affirming and faith-sustaining values of that world will be lost for most Jews.
If only there were a way today to rally our people on behalf of affordable Jewish education, as Safam rallied countless thousands for innumerable vital Jewish causes some 45 years ago.
Shabbat Shalom. Chag samayach.