Before there was Bruce Springsteen, there was Bob Dylan. Before Dylan, Pete Seeger. And before Pete, there was Woody Guthrie. Woody is a cornerstone of American folk and protest music. Who knew he wrote Hanukkah songs, too?

Woody Guthrie was born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas and rode freight trains like a hobo to California to escape the Dust Bowl drought and Great Depression. He enlisted in the merchant marine and army to fight the fascists with both guns and his guitar. After the war, Woody lived in Coney Island, N.Y., near his Jewish mother-in-law. Through it all, Woody wrote music.

Aliza Greenblatt was born in the Ukraine. In 1900, when she was 15, her family fled Russian anti-Semitism and settled in Philadelphia. A committed Zionist and progressive activist, she moved to Coney Island to be part of America’s Yiddish artistic community, where she was recognized for her beautiful Yiddish poetry. Her daughter, Marjorie, was Guthrie’s second wife.

This is such an “only in America” story. Where else could a Dust Bowl balladeer and Yiddish poet inspire each other? How could Woody Guthrie, the man who wrote “This Land Is Your Land,” write songs about pickles, bagels, Hanukkah gelt and the inherent holiness of everywhere?


This fascinating story is the focus of “Woody Guthrie’s Holy Ground: The Yiddish Connection,” being presented by JArts on Wednesday, Oct. 10, at The Center for the Arts in Natick. Woody’s daughter, Nora, will be sharing stories, letters, lyrics and other memorabilia that highlight the Guthrie-Greenblatt connections.

It’s also an evening of music. Lorin Sklamberg, lead singer of The Klezmatics, who won a Grammy for the album putting music to many of Guthrie’s “Jewish” lyrics, will sing and play several of the songs. Lorin is considered one of the finest Yiddish singers in the world.

“Holy Ground” is fascinating on so many levels. It’s about finding a place you can call home, about family and about a shared progressive political vision. It’s also about some great music.

Here’s an example you can enjoy until the event!

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