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

(page 2 of 3)

Kurzweil isn’t the only one who has wondered about those burly Deadheads. In “Perspectives of the Dead,” a collection of scholarly essays about the band published in 1999, Douglas Gertner noted how many Garcia lookalikes attended shows – “big men with thick dark curly hair and beards.” Only later does Gertner realize that these bearded men are, like him, members of an “extended community” of Jewish Deadheads.

Understanding the intense loyalty inspired by the Dead is a plaguing existential question that echoes through every Jewish Deadhead’s mind at some point or another. Since its earliest days, Jews have been important figures in the scene that grew up around the band.

The legendary music promoter Bill Graham, an early champion of the Dead, was a German-born Jewish refugee from the Nazis. Mandolinist David Grisman was a longtime collaborator, contributing the signature mandolin part on the studio version of “Ripple.” Les Kippel was an early pioneer in the trading of live recordings and the founder of Relix magazine, a newsletter for traders.

“Going to a show is kind of like going to a family simcha,” said the 65-year-old Kippel, who now works for an auction house in Florda. “You knew everyone there and you felt like you belonged. It made me feel like I needed to connect with everyone around me and get everyone involved who wasn’t there.”

Kippel spent some 15 years taping Dead shows and created the First Free Underground Grateful Dead Tape Exchange in 1973 to help circulate the recordings among fans. He would organize people to bring recording equipment, both to split the costs and confuse security guards – “sort of the same way a kibbutz operates,” he said.

“It went from a simple act of wanting to preserve the experience to collecting it, which reminded me a lot of how we preserve Judaism,” Kippel said. “Our ancestors cherish our past and we try to preserve it, which is why Jewish Deadheads are obsessed with preserving the shows. We were a family gathering.”

Only one member of the band, Mickey Hart, is Jewish. And unlike Phish, the jam band that most closely followed in the Dead’s endlessly touring, live tape-trading ways, the Dead never worked Hebrew classics like “Avinu Malkeinu” into its concert repertoire. But for many Jews, attending shows was akin to a religious experience and the band’s lyrics contain powerful spiritual messages.

“The Baal Shem Tov taught that the way you look at things throughout your day can be an expression in the way you relate to God,” Yosef Langer said. “I was blown away when I found that exact concept in the Dead’s ‘Scarlet Begonias’ song when they sing, ‘Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.’ “


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!
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • 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.