Museum plans program of Spinoza and songs
David Brahinsky will offer a lecture on 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza and top it off with a performance with his Roosevelt String Band.
If you go
Who: David Brahinsky and the Roosevelt String Band
What: Lecture and concert
When: Sunday, Oct. 13; lecture at 1 p.m., concert at 2:30
Where: Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County, Freehold Township
Cost: $20, $18 for members
October 8, 2013
Some of his Monmouth County neighbors know David Brahinsky best as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who has been playing traditional folk music for more than 30 years.
Others know him best as a professor of philosophy and comparative religion at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pa.
On Sunday, Oct. 13, Brahinsky, a native of North Carolina who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Roosevelt, NJ, will display both aspects when he appears at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County.
At 1 p.m., he is scheduled to lecture on “Spinoza’s Influence on the Liberal, Democratic Tradition.” And at 2:30 p.m., he and the Roosevelt String Band will perform in concert.
Brahinsky told NJJN he hopes to raise the profile of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century Amsterdam-born Jewish philosopher who, he said, receives too little credit for influencing America’s forefathers.
Brahinsky said it is more common to link the ideas of England’s John Locke to those expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But Brahinsky plans to discuss recent scholarship showing that Locke himself was inspired by Spinoza, whose ideas of every individual’s claim to equality through the power of reason still resonated a century after his death.
Brahinsky said he has been studying and teaching the philosophy of Spinoza since 1969, but it is only within the last decade or two that the philosopher’s influence on the fathers of American democracy has become known via works by writers Jonathan Israel and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein.
Brahinsky said the Roosevelt String Band was formed in 1987 as a way of bringing “mostly socially relevant folk music of the past and the present” to the people of Roosevelt and the wider New Jersey area.
“Three of us — Paul Prestopino, Ed Cedar, and I — have been here since the beginning,” said Brahinsky, who plays guitar and is often the lead vocalist. Prestopino, who was a sideman for many years with Peter, Paul & Mary, plays mandolin, banjo, and guitar. Cedar, who taught in the South Brunswick school system for many years, performs in orchestras for musicals all over New Jersey.
These three will be joined on at the museum by Freehold native Jen Sherry and Hopewell resident Guy DeRosa, a professor of politics at Mercer County Community College.
A social experiment with an accent on art
ROOSEVELT has undergone many changes since its founding more than 75 years ago, said longtime resident David Brahinsky. Yet it remains a place “where art, politics, and culture remain high on the list of citizens’ agendas.”
Initially known as Jersey Homesteads, the settlement was envisioned as an agro-industrial Jewish colony intended to address the rampant unemployment of the 1930s — and promote cooperative ideals.
The town was “founded by Jewish socialists as a part of FDR’s plan to take the country out of the Great Depression,” said Brahinsky.
From the start, it boasted a robust artistic pedigree. The flat-roofed, cinder block ranch homes were codesigned by Louis Kahn, who would become one of the world’s most respected architects.
Ben Shahn, the Lithuanian-born social realist, created a mural that can still be seen in the Roosevelt Public School. The three panels celebrate a journey from urban tenements and sweatshops to simple, light-filled homes in the country.
Although the cooperative ceased operations in 1940, Roosevelt continued to attract artists, writers, and musicians. Today, it is home to numerous studios, including that of sculptor Jonathan Shahn, Ben Shahn’s son. The town even makes a cameo appearance in Jonathan Lethem’s new novel, Dissident Gardens, about the American-Jewish radicals of the mid-20th century and their offspring.