Just another foreigner in another foreign land,
But these strangers are my brothers as they take me by the hand.
Welcome my brothers, welcome one and all,
Welcome my sisters, welcome one and all,
B'ruchim ha'ba'im, shalom aleichem.
IN “Just Another Foreigner,” the American Jewish folk group Safam describes a young American Jew visiting Kiryat Shmoneh, an immigrant town on Israel's northeastern border. Surrounded by Jews from Arabicspeaking Yemen and Iraq, the new arrival has trouble understanding their words of welcome. “Just another foreigner,” the traveler laments, “in another foreign land.” Yet within moments, the Israeli hosts greet their guest with the familiar Hebrew welcome, “b'ruchim ha'ba'im.” Now at ease in the once-uncomfortable surrounding, the American Jew realizes that “these strangers are my brothers as they take me by the hand.” 1
Safam's song captures the essence of American Jewish political culture in the last quarter of the twentieth century. For the young Jewish leaders born into the social protest era of the 1960s but raised in the conservative climate of the 1970s and 1980s, Safam's musical narrative evoked powerful autobiographical memories. Instead of expressing their social reform ideals by practicing civil disobedience and rallying in defense of fellow Americans, the new generation of Jews journeyed to Israel, learned Hebrew, and studied the works of major Zionist thinkers. Bred in the geographic and cultural isolation of middle-class Jewish suburbs, these young Jews knew little of the poverty that led their grandparents to embrace the New Deal and could only recall the Holocaust from lessons learned in religious school. Their knowledge of the rise and fall of the black-Jewish alliance grew from video images and their parents stories, instead of personal experience. When Safam's American Jewish protagonist mentioned brothers taking him by the hand, he referred to Jews from different nations, not Americans of varying ethnic backgrounds.