Each one of us has lived through a moment in time where our world is shaken. I am not talking about personal instances -- more about events on a larger scale. They may have been positive events that changed your life and the world for the better, or they may have been detrimental and devastating. The current COVID-19 pandemic certainly falls in the latter category.
In my lifetime, I think about the Iraq War, the horror of 9/11, the rally in Washington, DC in support of Soviet Jewry in December 1987 (which changed my professional aspirations), and the USSR-USA ice hockey game at the 1980 Olympics. Each of these events I can remember as if they were yesterday. They mattered to me.
I am sure you can look back on your own life and think about the incredible events that have taken place and the indelible mark they made on you.
I believe the City of Portland is having one of those moments right now.
You should see the texts and emails I get from friends around the world watching what is happening in our city. Portland is having tremendous challenges. Peaceful protests. Some not so peaceful. People standing up for justice. Damage to businesses. Local police. Federal agents. Mayor gets tear gassed. People injured. And no end in sight.
There are so many differing views on what is taking place in our city. The scene is uncomfortable. Disturbing. Angering. And on all sides, you have people who feel they are in the right. Will things get better? How? When?
I believe this will be one of those moments we look back on that defines our city – both locally and nationally.
Speaking of moments in time, where were you 35 years ago on July 13, 1985? If you were like me, you were in front of your television watching one of the greatest musical concerts ever, Live Aid.
The story goes that in 1984, Bob Geldof, a member of the band the Boomtown Rats, traveled to Ethiopia after hearing news reports of a horrific famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians and threatened to kill millions more. After returning to London, he called Britain and Ireland’s top pop artists together to record a single to benefit Ethiopian famine relief. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was written by Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure and performed by “Band Aid,” an ensemble that featured Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, U2, Wham! and others. It was the best-selling single in Britain to that date and raised more than $10 million.
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was also a No. 1 hit in the United States and inspired U.S. pop artists to come together and perform “We Are the World,” a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. “USA for Africa,” as the U.S. ensemble was known, featured many of the biggest acts of the 80s. The single went to the top of the charts and eventually raised $44 million.
With the crisis continuing in Ethiopia, and the neighboring Sudan also stricken with famine, Geldof proposed Live Aid, an ambitious global charity concert aimed at raising funds and increasing awareness of the plight in Africa. In just ten weeks, Geldof was able to get a “who’s who” of contemporary musical acts (75 in all) to perform.
At 12:00 noon on that Saturday, Live Aid officially kicked off with Princess Diana and Prince Charles at London’s Wembley Stadium (70,000 attendees). Five hours later, its sister event would join in from the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia (100,000 attendees). In the end, a 16-hour concert played in both venues. As a 17-year-old teen, I did not miss a moment (and still have the VHS tapes to prove it)!
Many of you may know that Freddie Mercury and Queen stole the show – some say it was “the greatest live performance of all time.” Phil Collins teamed up with Sting at Wembley and then hopped on the Concorde to perform in Philadelphia (the only act to do that). Joan Baez famously kicked off the show in Philadelphia by telling the crowd "this is your Woodstock, and it's long overdue."
Here are a few fun facts about the concert:
At the end of the day, the concert was watched by more than a billion viewers in 110 nations. More than 40 of these nations held telethons for African famine relief during the broadcast. The London finale featured a collective performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Six hours later, the U.S. concert ended with “We Are the World.” In a triumph of technology and good will (remember this was 1985), the event raised $127 million for famine relief in Africa.
What can we learn from Live Aid?
One person can impact the world.
You have a choice -- get involved or be a bystander.
Our tradition inspires us to act:
“Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue!” Deuteronomy 16:20
“Praying with my feet” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
"I don't speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don't have the power to remain silent" – Rabbi A.Y. Kook
“If I am not for me, who is for me; and if I am (only) for myself, what am I. And if not now, when?” – Hillel, Pirke Avot, 1:14
During these difficult days, find your moment to do what you think is right!
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO