top of page

Gonna Get Through This World - the Klezmatics

Woody Guthrie's second mother-in-law (ie the mother of his second wife, Marjorie Mazia) was American Yiddish poet, Aliza Greenblatt, and Guthrie, through her, became interested in Jewish American culture, finding correlations between the exodus of the Oklahomans to California and the Israelites from Egypt, and the immigrant experience of Jews in the US. He wrote many songs inspired by this and the notion of the "wandering Jew", which later in the noughties were unearthed by New York klezmer band, the Klezmatics and set to music in two albums. This is from the first, "Wonder Wheel", which, in 2007, won a Grammy Award in the category of Best Contemporary World Music Album.

Sometimes the Christian and secular worlds, while stuffing their faces with chocolate Easter eggs, forget that the Easter period is also the culmination of Passover, the major Jewish holiday, the last two days of which - this year the 3rd and 4th of April - celebrate the original exodus, and the parting of the Red Sea to enable the Israelites' escape from the chasing Egyptian forces. Here the Klezmatics, give the Guthrie song "Gonna Get Through This World" a distinctly Yiddish feel, to great effect.

In a bizarre variation on this theme, the blocking of the Suez Canal by a container ship was finally resolved last week. When I was at primary school, I drew a picture of a boat in water that was full of tin cans and turds. My teacher asked me what it was and I said "the Sewage Canal". She was extremely impressed, presumably at my precocious sense of humour and I was wise enough not to let on that I thought that was what it was really called. The week before, on March 21st, just down the road in her home city of Cairo, the great Egyptian writer, Nawal El Saadawi died at the age of 89. El Saadawi was a ardent feminist, socialist, political activist and a leading campaigner against FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) having suffered circumcision herself when she was a young girl. She was also opposed to Israel, accepting that it was there and could not be made to go away, but very critical of its policy toward Arabs and the Arabic world as well as America's support of the state.

She believed that religions are responsible for much evil, mainly because people in power are not prepared to criticise them. She herself was always outspoken, and spent six weeks in a Cairo prison as a result, as well as receiving numerous death threats and visits from successive security forces over the years, at one time having to leave Egypt for three years for fear of her life. In her own words she was "critical of the colonial, capitalist, racist, patriarchal mindset of the super-powers." (interview New African 30/6/16)

Woody Guthrie would have surely approved.


bottom of page