Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mi Shebeirach / One Tin Soldier


When I was a child, I spent five summers at a Jewish sleepaway camp in southern Pennsylvania.  Capital Camps was probably the closest you could come to living in a kibbutz next to the Mason-Dixon line and, though I was no more Jewish then than I am now, my favorite memories from my years there are rooted in the camp's communal spiritual activities: chanting the Birkat HaMazon after meals, wearing white for the Sabbath on Saturdays, and losing our voices during evening sing-alongs.

Capital Camps, like many Jewish sleepaway camps on the East Coast in the 90s, was just as liberal as it was religious, and half the songs we roared at the top of our lungs were those sung by activists in the 50s and 60s and 70s.  (My parents were delighted when I came home with Joni Mitchell and Peter, Paul, and Mary memorized!)  But even the Hebrew songs focused on social justice, and for every rousing chorus accompanied by strange dances invented by earlier generations of campers we also sang mournful melodies with contemplative verses, heads bowed and arms clasped around each other.

I've been thinking a lot about those sing-alongs recently.  One night last week when I was in Suffolk, Jon and I started discussing the situation in Israel.  I believe wholeheartedly in the Jewish state, though I wouldn't call myself a Zionist, and at the same time I'm appalled by the slaughter of innocents in the name of Jews worldwide.  I'm horrified by the acts of anti-Semitism that have been suffered by Jews across Europe in response to the conflict in Gaza.  And I'm grief-stricken by the ease with which the situation in Gaza was allowed to deteriorate by the leaders of Israel, by our unwillingness to find common ground, and by our haste to take other lives.

Throughout our conversation, snatches of songs from those summers at sleep-away camp ran through my head, and I finally asked Jon if I could sing one of them to him.  By the last chorus, I was sobbing.  I wish everyone had to learn these lyrics before going off to war.

One Tin Soldier

Listen, children, to a story
That was written long ago,
'Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley-folk below.

On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath the stone,
And the valley-people swore
They'd have it for their very own.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away.

So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill,
Asking for the buried treasure,
Tons of gold for which they'd kill.

Came an answer from the kingdom,
"With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain,
All the riches buried there."

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away.

Now the valley cried with anger,
"Mount your horses! Draw your swords!"
And they killed the mountain-people,
So they won their just reward.

Now they stood beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red.
Turned the stone and looked beneath it:
"Peace on Earth" was all it said.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away.

 photo 866de425-8336-4c63-9efd-1c4dd8bf0e62_zpsafe0d56b.jpg

8 comments:

  1. We sang this at camp in Vermont, too. Gives me shivers every time.

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  2. We learned it at Girl Scout Camp! Love this song.
    When Gorillaz came out with "Fire Coming Out of a Monkey's Head" it was reminiscent enough of "One Tin Soldier" to bring that one back to mind for me.

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  3. Sam taught theatre at a boys sleepaway camp in the Berkshires in America years ago, I just asked him if he knew this song and he did! x

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  4. Georgia ChristakisAugust 20, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    I learned this at my Orthodox Christian camp; never knew it had Jewish roots. One of my absolute favorites..

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  5. It's not Jewish! just a 1960s anti-war song. I LOVE that we all know it from totally different places. it gives me hope :)

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  6. I learned this song in my elementary school choir, and I always loved it. I can still sing it. It has a beautiful message.

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  7. Oh wow, we sang this at my french/english language camp up in Canada! I had a similar experience: we sang many folk songs from the 60s and 70s and I still remember them to this day. I was too young to appreciate the deep and thoughtful lyrics back then but now I'm happy that I learned them and their message

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  8. Wow. That song is... I do think we should all learn that one. Good lesson if we would only listen.

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