peter yarrow 311.
(photo credit: Phil Konstantin)
Fifty years ago, as the Peter in Peter, Paul and Mary, folksinger/guitarist Peter Yarrow was part of that anti-establishment coterie of performing artists who opposed the Vietnam War. These days, he's very establishment. "I've never been prouder of being American than because of what the American Embassy is doing here," he said on Sunday night at the residence of US Ambassador James Cunningham.
Yarrow was referring to the pivotal role that the Embassy has played in liaising with Israel's Education Ministry and the Center for Educational Technology to introduce Operation Respect, a program he developed almost a decade ago, to Israeli schools. The program advocates mutual respect and conflict resolution in schools, with the aim of guaranteeing children a safe and compassionate learning environment, free of ridicule and violence.
When Yarrow came to Israel in April, 2009 to promote Operation Respect, Cunningham held a similar reception in his honor. "I was excited then about the potential of the project," he said, "and I'm glad it got off to a great start." The great start is actually a pilot project with the participation of four schools, two of them in Israeli Arab communities and two in Jewish communities. The Arab schools are Rashid in Lod and Ibi Sibna in Taiba, whereas the Jewish schools are Ganei Yaar in Lod and Naomi Shemer in Petah Tikva.
The project was conceived at the start of the millennium, when Yarrow's daughter, Bethany, brought him a song by Steve Sesskin, which she wanted him to include in his repertoire. The song, "Don't laugh at me," triggered something in Yarrow, especially when he thought of all the children who had been laughed at, ridiculed and humiliated because of some physical or mental challenge or on racist grounds. It is now the signature song of Operation Respect, with the refrain "Don't laugh at me, don't call me names, don't get your pleasure from my pain. In our hearts we're all the same."
When Yarrow sang at the American residence last April, he was accompanied by Voices of Peace, a religiously and ethnically mixed girls' choir, which sings in Hebrew, Arabic and English. This time he also brought local icon David Broza, guitarist Kevin Salem - the producer of a Peter Paul and Mary tribute album in memory of Mary Travers, who died in September of last year of cancer-related complications - and oud player Idan Toledano who is also the director of Voices of Peace.
YARROW, WHO has been a social activist for nearly all of his life, made the point that he'd always been a loyal American, even though at times he'd been part of the loyal opposition.
He introduced Broza described him as "an amazing singer," and adding, "he is a good singer from the heart. He's not a great technical singer. That doesn't matter. It's the heart."
In Israel with Yarrow are Dr. Charlotte Frank, the founding chairperson of Operation Respect, and Mark Weiss, the program's education director. Frank, who is one of America's leading educators, has received more than 60 awards for her work in education. She is also a senior vice president for research and development at McGraw Hill, which has developed and produced the educational tools for the program. The material has been translated into Hebrew and Arabic with the help of the American Embassy. In Israel, the program is being implemented by the Center of Educational Technology (CET).
Yarrow sang "Blowin' in the Wind," and the audience of some 50 Muslim and Christian Arabs and Orthodox and secular Jews - most of them educators - all enthusiastically clapped in time to the music and sang along."This is the most iconic song written in America for people to come together and assert liberty and justice for all," said Yarrow.
Broza, who has appeared with Yarrow on the American entertainment circuit, said that it was very moving to hear how everything had come together, "but you have to understand a little of what it takes." Apparently, when Yarrow wants something, he can be very persistent. "You get dragged into this and you don't know what you're being dragged into. It starts with a phone call, then an e-mail and another e-mail, and another... Very seldom do I get so inspired by things which are non-fathomable."
Broza also praised Yarrow's dedication. They had been scheduled for a recording session in New York on that day that Mary died, and although Yarrow was emotionally upset, he insisted on going ahead with the session. Likewise, when he came to Israel, his plane landed at 11 a.m., "and by 1 p.m. we're in the studio."
Yarrow returned the compliment. "David's persistence and commitment has brought another level of legitimacy into this."
Yarrow made it clear that he and his team are not trying to run the show in Israel. "We're simply here to help and to give the schools the tools to do things we would never have imagined. It would be presumptuous in the extreme to do more than try to help," he said.
Yarrow, Broza and celebrated Arab singer Amal Murkus are performing this week for Arab and Jewish pupils in schools. Who knows, maybe music will succeed where politics has failed.