We Didn't Start the Fire

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
Billy Joel


Earlier this week, while driving home from a Jewish community event, this song was playing on the radio. It brought back such incredible memories. In the summer of 1989, I was a camp counselor for 8-9 year old boys at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp in Starlight, Pennsylvania. The number one song in the country at that time was We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel (check out the lyrics if you do not know the song). Its lyrics include brief, rapid-fire allusions to more than 100 headline-making events between 1949, the year of Joel's birth, and 1989, when the song was released. Joel captured the major images, events, and personalities of those 40 years in a three-minute song. It was pure information overload, a song that assumed people knew exactly what he was singing about. What was truly interesting was the realization that the listeners for the most part understood the references. Although my young campers knew every word, unlike others, they were really too young to know almost anything about the historical events mentioned.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, Billy Joel got the idea for the song when he had just turned 40. He was in a recording studio and met a friend of Sean Lennon (John’s son) who had just turned 21 who said "It's a terrible time to be 21!" Joel replied to him, "Yeah, I remember when I was 21 -- I thought it was an awful time and we had Vietnam, and y'know, drug problems, and civil rights problems and everything seemed to be awful." The friend replied, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it's different for you. You were a kid in the fifties and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties.” Joel retorted, "Wait a minute, didn't you hear of the Korean War or the Suez Canal Crisis?" Joel later said those headlines formed the basic framework for the song.

Joel has said, "There's an element of malevolence in the song…it's like waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

And that is how I feel today – waiting for the other shoe to drop somewhere around the world. This week alone in the news (sorry not quite the rhythmic pattern of Billy Joel’s song, but I tried)…

Earthquake in Nepal…riots in Baltimore…
No fans at baseball game…Marcus becomes a Titan…
Same-sex marriage at the Court…give Bruce Jenner our support…
 Bernie Sanders makes a run...Republicans with Adelson… 
Trailblazers season ends…Dr. McDreamy never again...
Fight of the Century…Rachelle David goes Army…


Let me elaborate on a few of these things (while some are self-explanatory):

Nepal -- In the wake of Saturday’s magnitude-7.8 earthquake that devastated large swaths of the mountainous country, killing over 6,000 — the death toll could eventually soar to 10,000, Nepalese officials said — and leaving thousands more wounded and tens of thousands seeking shelter and food.

To help respond, over 260 doctors and rescue personnel (the largest representation of any international aid mission) were part of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) delegation that landed Tuesday in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. Israel’s field hospital with 60 beds began operating Wednesday morning, with staff treating nearly 100 patients and delivering their first baby — a boy — on their initial day.

The rebuilding process will continue for a very long time. Please join the Jewish Federation in providing your support to the people of Nepal by making your donation.

Baltimore – I lived in Baltimore for 12 years (graduate school and my first ten years in the Federation field). I was heartbroken to watch the rioting and looting happening to that great city this past week. I was in touch with several of my colleagues and friends to hear their thoughts and stories. I was stunned to learn that earlier in the week Jewish institutions and day schools closed early for precautionary reasons.

The Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore started accepting donations to benefit the neighborhoods affected by the violence and is working with churches, community centers and civic organizations to properly distribute that aid. Through the community’s Jewish Volunteer Connection, the Federation continues to send volunteers to help clean up.

My colleague and Federation CEO, Marc Terrill, said “For generations, the Federation has been there in the good times and bad. We know that soon, with everyone playing a role, we will rebuild Baltimore into the community of strength and charm for which it is known.”

Fight of the Century – Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao. Biggest boxing match in a long time and in one night the fight is estimated to gross over $300 million. Can you imagine?

Rachelle David – Who is she? Rachelle David, according to records at West Point, is the first and only graduate of an Orthodox yeshiva (male or female), to attend the United States Army military academy in its 213-year history! Quite an accomplishment.

Interestingly, Rachelle keeps kosher and West Point does not have a kosher cafeteria, although it does have vegetarian options at every meal, as well as ready-to-eat kosher meals for field exercises.

We live in exciting times…difficult times…and the world keeps turning. With every passing day we become a part of history – events (big and small) occur that shape our generation and generations to come. Like Billy Joel, we can reflect on our lives and create our own “song” about events that changed our world or impacted our lives and those of others. That may be too passive. The question for each of us – since “fire” (both for good and for bad) can start at any time/anywhere – are we merely going to be witnesses to history or will we be active participants in making our community/world a better place?

Shabbat shalom.



Add Comment