Sunday, March 23, 2008

Alan Lomax and Israel's Cultural Treasures

It is not often that you will read words of praise on this site for Franklin D. Roosevelt. Particularly today, during the crisis with the sinking U.S. dollar, a lot of economic changes made during his administration could use a critical examination.
One thing he got right was the WPA or Works Progress Administration, which was a program started under Roosevelt to get people back to work on projects for the public good. Many worked building rads and dams.Artists such as Ben Shahn were also employed with public funds.
One of the projects in the WPA was the collecting of folk recordings from around the United States, particularly the south by field workers who were driven by the realisation that America's folk heritage was dying with its elderly.
Israel is faced with a similar crisis. Streams of immigration have brought immigrants to Israel from around the world. Changing Jewish geography brought about by anti-semitism and aliyah has endangered some Jewish languages such as Ladino and Tat. Once isolated Jewish groups are marrying out of their communities. A new chapter in our history is being written but the old must not be forgotten.
When I hear that an elderly Yemenite or Moroccan Jew has passed away I think of the memories and wisdom that are buried with them. Israel should follow the lead of those like Alan Lomax, who recorded folk songs, stories and endangered dialects. I question whether space can be found in Israel's tight budget, but there are many philanthropists in America who could be approached by a project of this type.
Israel brings together Jews who were exiled to all over the world. We built a history and folkways during the exile. We owe it to future generations to preserve the varied streams feeding our collective memory. The time to act is now.

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