Included on New Jersey-based recording artist Mara Levine’s latest album, “Facets of Folk,” is a song she considers “one of the most powerful” written about the Holocaust. “By My Silence” is among several on the album that express themes of social conscience, reinforcing Levine’s assertion that her repertoire is shaped “by the Jewish value of tikkun olam.”
Levine, who lives in Edison, where she was raised, told NJJN she feels so strongly about “By My Silence” that she sings it at every performance. The lyrics reveal the complicity of those who stood by as the Shoah descended on Europe. Written by Ellen Bukstel and Nick Annis, the song was inspired by the famous poem “First They Came for the Socialists…” by the Rev. Martin Niemoller (1892-1984), a German Protestant pastor who was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for seven years for his outspoken resistance to the regime. The song was originally released as a single after the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., which drew hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.
Another song on the album that Levine frequently sings in concert is “Be the Change”; written by Arlon Bennett, it was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and civil rights activist Rosa Parks as exemplars of nonviolent action to effect positive change. The message in
Be the change you want to see around you,
Be the right in a world of wrong,
Be the one, the one to make a difference,
Be the change, Be the change.
Growing up, Levine said her parents instilled in her a deep belief that all human beings have equal worth regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. They also taught her the importance of making positive contributions to society. “The songs I choose to sing,” she said, “are definitely informed by the Jewish value of tikkun olam, making the world a better place.”
In addition to her folk music, for the past several years Levine has been studying, performing, and recording in the bluegrass genre. She said she is thrilled to have just signed a national record deal with the Tennessee-based Bell Buckle Records label.
Before her introduction to the genre six years ago, Levine admitted, she had a false impression of bluegrass. “I certainly wasn’t listening to it voluntarily,” she said. “The exciting thing about bluegrass is that it’s evolving. There are subgenres like grassicana” — defined as music that lies between progressive forms of bluegrass and the broad spectrum of Americana — “which is my style, and elements of folk.”
Levine, who has no formal training, said she has always loved to sing and grew up listening to the folk music of Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and Judy Collins. She only decided to pursue a professional career in music in 2006, when she returned to New Jersey after living and working corporate jobs in Pennsylvania for 10 years.
She began by singing vocal harmony with a number of folk groups. She has since been hailed by Midwest Record, an online journal, as “the new standard bearer for folk music” and has released three albums, including “Facets of Folk” in 2019, which hit No. 1 on the Folk Alliance International Folk DJ charts and had nine songs featured among its Top 20. Levine has appeared on numerous radio programs and performed at venues and festivals across the United States and abroad. Locally, she has performed in concerts sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women Metro-Jersey Section and the JCC of Middlesex County in Edison, where she performed “By My Silence” at its 2019 Yom HaShoah commemoration.
Information about the artist’s upcoming performances can be found at maralevine.com.