Green Dragons to be tamed

MANCHESTER - You don't have to be "of a certain age" to know about "Puff, The Magic Dragon." The song about the passing of childhood innocence and fantasy was one of several mega-hits the folksinging trio Peter, Paul and Mary recorded during the 1960s, when they were one of the most influential singing groups of their era. "Leavin' on a Jet Plane," "Blowing in the Wind," and "If I had a Hammer" were some of the others.

Some music is timeless, and the folk music inspired by the times and the tumult of the 1960s lives on. This Sunday, June 29, the Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary will be making a return visit to Manchester to perform in a concert at the Israel Congregation, beginning at 4 p.m.

And yes, he plans to sing some of the old songs, hopefully with a little boost from the audience, Peter Yarrow said earlier this week.

But he's not stuck in the past either, he added, and there are new issues - the environment being one - that challenge people today in ways similar to how the civil rights and antiwar movements of half a century ago did.

"It's a concert that refers to an event of great legacy and a moment to create community and reflect on what it is we care about," Yarrow said. "So it's not hyper-political but it is about creating community and caring about each other."

The concert is intended to raise funds and awareness for the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, an academic program affiliated with Ben Gurion University. The institute is located on Kibbutz Ketura in Israel and was founded in 1996.

Rabbi Michael Cohen of Manchester was one of the founding faculty members who taught there in its earliest days, and he has maintained a close affiliation with it ever since. Yarrow is also a supporter of the institute's work, and through that connection, Cohen was able to interest Yarrow to come to Manchester for the performance, which he is doing without a fee, he said.

Environmental issues have been much in the news lately, what with concern about climate change perking up in the wake of President Obama's recent action plan for curtailing carbon emissions. Along with the environmental mission of the institute, it also plays a role in bringing together Jewish, Arab and other international students (many of them American), to learn cooperative techniques for problem solving that may be rooted in environmental issues, but also contain another dimension, he said.

"When people look at that part of the world, it's so easy to feel despair," he said, noting not only the long running disagreements between Israelis and Palestinians but also the more recent conflicts that have erupted in Syria and now, again, in Iraq. "We (Arava Institute) present a real model of how things could be. People want to support those initiatives because there is another way."

Political boundaries may be arbitrary lines in the sand, but the environment and climate change is a universal envelope that doesn't respect national borders. Instead, it can be seen as a bridge that can serve to bring people together to work on common problems, because in the long run there is no other option, Cohen said.

Faryn Borella, a graduate of Burr and Burton Academy in 2010, studied at the Arava Institute last year and will be returning there in August to work as a development and communications intern for a year. For many of the students, Israeli and Palestinian, the experience of attending the institute is transformational, she stated in an email message.

"For Palestinians and Jordanians, it is a very hard decision to choose to spend half a year to a year in Israel, as Palestinian and Jordanian society as a whole is wary of trusting Israel," she wrote. "But . . . the interactions between Palestinian and Israeli students are the same as any interactions between friends would be."

Students study the biodiversity of the Arava Valley - the strip of land where the institute is located between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba - as well as sustainable agriculture and renewable energy options, according to the institute's web site.

Its purpose is to train a cadre of environmental leaders for the Middle East, with the hope that someday, the environmental ministers of Israel, Palestine and Jordan will all be Arava alumni, Cohen said.

And there's more than just a passing Vermont connection as well. The University of Vermont has sent more students there since its founding than any other major university, and Bennington College and Green Mountain College have also been well represented, Cohen said.

Yarrow will be performing solo, with Lara Herscovitch warming the audience up as an opening act. Tickets cost $20 each, are limited, and can be purchased at the Northshire Bookstore. For more information, call Rabbi Cohen at 802-362-7220.

The show will be something of a cross between a party, a march and a concert, Yarrow said.

"These times demand an ever-greater effort on our part to make sense of a very troubled world," he said. "It's daunting, but we must persist."


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