What a Long, Strange Shabbat It's Been

Grateful Dead Fans Gather, Tie-Died Yarmulkes and All

Jewish Grateful Dead fans celebrating the Havdalah during the Blues for Challah retreat at the Isabella Freedman Center in Falls Village, Conn., Dec. 1, 2012.
JTA/Chavie Lieber
Jewish Grateful Dead fans celebrating the Havdalah during the Blues for Challah retreat at the Isabella Freedman Center in Falls Village, Conn., Dec. 1, 2012.

By JTA

Published December 04, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

As a gentle snow fell on the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center last Friday evening, some 85 people gathered inside a wooden lodge to welcome Shabbat – half in a meditation circle in which Grateful Dead lyrics served as a kind of mantra, the other in a more “traditional” service where the Lecha Dodi prayer was sung to the tune of the Dead classic “Ripple.”

It was the second installment of Blues for Challah, a weekend retreat that attracts dozens of Jewish Deadheads – or “grown-up hippies retracing their past,” as one participant described the scene – to this placid corner of the Connecticut countryside to bask in their collective love and reverence for the Grateful Dead.

Over the course of two days, a colorful sea of devotees – clad, unsurprisingly, in tie-dye, hemp and oversized knit yarmulkes – munched on organic food, swapped stories of their days following the Dead and tripping on acid, and of course, jammed.

“The Dead was a traveling band, they were always picking up and moving,” Yoseph Needelman, a Deadhead from Jerusalem and the author of a book about the use of marijuana by Chasidic rabbis, told JTA. “Their songs always talk about a road, a path, or driving to get back on a journey. That directly relates to a Jewish journey of traveling to find the right path, and the Chasidic concept of this world being a passageway. Jews and the Dead relate in that we both wander.”

A product of the 1960s San Francisco counterculture, the Grateful Dead inspired a fanatical loyalty from fans drawn as much by their music as the traveling carnival of seekers and misfits that followed them from venue to venue and obsessively trafficked in bootlegged recordings of their performances.

Though it’s been nearly 20 years since the death of Jerry Garcia, the band’s frontman and creative force, the Dead continues to be a cultural and commercial force – especially for the disproportionately large number of Deadheads who happen to be Jews.

“As Jews, we’re always searching for a sense of community and acceptance, and being in the Grateful Dead scene was a way to be yourself with no judgments, since the crowd is so diverse,” said Arthur Kurzweil, the author, Jewish educator, magician and Deadhead who was the weekend’s keynote speaker. “That old balding guy dancing next to you whose big belly is covered with a tie-dye shirt will go back to his job tomorrow as a banker. But at a Dead show, it doesn’t matter what he does.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.