Pete Seeger: Not a Jew?


When Pete Seeger became bar mitzvah, he sang “Hineh Ma Tov” from the synagogue bimah. Or was it “Tzena Tzena“? No wait, it was that song from Ecclesiastes. What’s that? Seeger wasn’t Jewish? Then why did he sing so many Jewish songs?

Often called the father of American folk music, Seeger was a singer, songwriter, and song collector who drew from many folk traditions. His international repertoire included songs from the Spanish Civil War and “Wimoweh“—his adaptation (based on his mispronunciation) of Solomon Linda’s South African hit, “Mbube.” And then there were his Jewish songs.

Seeger started to visit Israel in the early 1960s, but he had already been singing Hebrew songs for some years, sometimes with Israeli folk singer and shepherd pipe player, Hillel Ilka Raveh. An ardent advocate for peace, he self-produced a concert in Tel Aviv for Israeli Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and he donated the proceeds to a Palestinian teen who could not afford university.

Pete Seeger sang in Yiddish, visited Jewish summer camps, and developed a complicated relationship to Israel.

He might not have been Jewish, but he could have fooled us.


See Seeger’s “Hinei Ma Tov”:

Watch Seeger’s “Tzena Tzena”:

Listen to Seeger’s song from Ecclesiastes:

Check out Seeger’s “Wimoweh”:

Discover the original “Mbube”:

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