The Biennial Festival of music, arts and shalom that is M’korstock will take place on June 2nd on the grounds of Congregation M’kor Shalom. The daylong event is in large part an homage to Woodstock, right down to the graphics, which feature a dove sitting on a guitar neck just like the one used in the original posters for Woodstock.
The biggest name to appear will be Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame.
This year’s festival marks the third such festival for the Reform congregation. According to Michelle Bross, 54, co-chair of the program, the community was batting around ideas for a new community event for the summer of 2009, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. And like Woodstock, which went beyond music, community and mud, the synagogue wanted to include crafts, vendors and alternative entertainment for its family-friendly festival.
The School of Ruach Youth Choir, led by M’kor Shalom’s cantor, Anita Hochman, will kick off the day. It is comprised of congregation members, as well as singers from churches, synagogues and nonprofit organizations from across New Jersey, including Antioch Baptist Church, Morningstar Baptist Church, Kerygma, Bethel Baptist Church, Har Sinai Temple of Pennington, H.E.R.I.T.A.G.E., Inc. of Plainfield, and First Baptist of Somerset.
There will also be performances by one of Philadelphia’s favorite singer-songwriters, Chana Rothman; the klezmer-inflected jazz of the Chamsin ensemble; the alt-folk Jewishly infused music of Hannah Spiro, a Washington, D.C., native who is currently studying at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; and the jazz-tinged rock of Brooklyn-based Eric Komar.
There is one way that M’korstock trumps Woodstock musically: Peter Yarrow will be performing in Cherry Hill, something he never did at Yasgur’s Farm, although he was at the 1969 event, as the sound mixer for The Band.
The 74-year-old Yarrow is responsible, along with the other two-thirds of Peter, Paul and Mary — Paul Stookey and Mary Travers — for some of the most cherished songs to come out of the 1960s, including “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Day Is Done,” and one of the most popular children’s songs of all time, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
Yarrow also wrote the anthem for the Soviet Jewry movement, “Light One Candle.”
“I did it at the request of Paul and Mary, for a concert on the third night of Chanukah,” he recalls about his 1983 composition. “They wanted me to write it because I was the only Jewish member of the group.”
Yarrow, whose nonprofit organization, Operation Respect, which has taught civility and conflict resolution strategies to millions of children in schools around the world — including dozens of Israeli institutions — credits his Jewish upbringing in New York with inspiring his lifelong commitment to helping others.
“I have found that many of the things I embrace and that I have written about are very Jewish,” he says. “My way of life follows tikkun olam; it’s right there at the center of what I’m up to, and as the years pass, I find out just how Jewish I am.”
Yarrow’s dedication to social activism — he was interviewed after finishing a benefit concert to raise money for bone marrow tests for a 4-year-old boy in New York — fits well with M’korstock’s decision to donate part of the event proceeds to the Philadelphia-based Gift of Life Donor Program.
As a congregation focused on social action, Bross says, it was a given that the event would benefit a cause in addition to M’kor Shalom. “We were looking to collaborate with a nonprofit,” she says.
“One of our congregants who was on the event steering committee is a kidney recipient, and we are already involved with the program — we cook dinner for people who stay at the donor house in Philadelphia. We like that the program isn’t just for one ethnicity — everyone can benefit from this.”
And in case anyone is wondering: Yarrow will be performing “Puff the Magic Dragon,” complete with disclaimer.
Says Yarrow: “I carefully explain that it’s not about drugs, and then we all sing it together.”