Musician Ben Sidran’s 1960s reunion recalls Jewish influx


Mention the student protests and unrest of the 1960s and some may think of Columbia or Berkeley. But University of Wisconsin – Madison was a hotbed of activist thought as well.

In June, a reunion of witnesses and participants will descend on the city for three days of concerts, seminars, films and exhibits.

Dubbed a “Party with a Purpose,” the event is the brainchild of Madison alum and musician Ben Sidran and his wife Judy. “While we were on tour in Europe a couple years ago, we came across a lot of people who remembered Madison in the 60s – not a particular year, but the whole decade,” Sidran says. “It was more a state of mind than a place. It was an approach to creativity and learning, to civil rights and justice. The reunion is a chance to look back at where we were in order to discover where we are going.”

The festivities run June 14-16. It includes free events like nightly music on the Memorial Union Terrace, films of the time (“2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Easy Rider,” “The Graduate”), dance recitals and art exhibits.

Alongside the reunion is a companion conference with more than 30 seminars on topics as diverse as drug culture, Madison history and tikkun olam, as well as sessions on the war, civil rights and graphic novels.

There are also some separate ticketed events, including a concert with Sidran and Boz Scaggs, and another featuring the Temptations.

“We were one of the campuses on the cutting edge,” Sidran says. “And one of the things that made us different was the Jewish profile of many of the students who came from the East Coast.” Madison had no quotas on Jewish students in the 1930s, and Jewish professors were welcome. “When radical professors came here, they built an intellectual history department that was unlike anything else. Students who came out of there felt their lives were important for imparting change.”

The complete schedule and registration for the conference and reunion is available online at “There’s no way you can see it all,” Sidran says of the conference. “There are four seminars going on at a time. But the ‘60s was like that, too.” Every panel will be videotaped, though, and some will be streamed live on the conference Facebook page.

“There is a lot we can still learn from the ‘60s,” he closed. “There are unpopular wars. Feminism, marginalization and civil rights are topics of concern and debate. A lot is similar. What we went through can provide comfort to those fighting now. There’s something useful about that.”