Why is Woodstock a Jewish Story ?
The story of Woodstock is a very Jewish story. Start with the organizers. Woodstock
Ventures. This group consists of two Jewish guys from Brooklyn, Michael Lang and
Artie Kornfeld and their two Jewish backers, Joel Rosenman and John Roberts
(1945-2001). Next, add the very iconic advertising poster: " Woodstock Music
and Art Fair; An Aquarian Exposition/ 3 Days of Peace and Music." , This poster,
designed by Jewish artist Arnold Skolnik, features the now-famous drawing of a
dove perched on the neck of a guitar.
Though the festival was called Woodstock, it never happened there. A site was
found in Wallkill but mounting pressures in that town left Woodstock Ventures
without a festival site just weeks before the event. The hero of this story is
Jewish dairy farmer Max Yasgur. In July 1969, Max agreed to allow the
Woodstock festival to take place on his farm in Bethel (Bethel means house of God). It is important to note that Yasgur, a republican, did not oppose the war or encourage dropping out. He did feel the sting of antisemitism in Sullivan County as well as the wounds of Hitler's war and felt that everyone, even teenagers and hippies deserved the freedom to express themselves peacefully. Max did not appreciate discrimination,
It is well known that there were problems at the festival, plagued by traffic, rain, mud and shortages of everything including food. Desperate pleas for more food went out to local organizations. The task was daunting as most roads were like parking lots. The people of Bethel and the members of the Monticello Jewish Community Center made and sent thousands of sandwiches.
Woodstock was about the music and "the tribe" is well represented there as well.
Barry "the fish" Melton, Leslie West, Robbie Robertson, Mickey Hart, Arlo Guthrie, members of Sha Na Na and Jefferson Airplane......Blood, Sweat and Tears was comprised of Al Kooper, Blues Project guitarist
Steve Katz, and four other Jewish musicians:
Bobby Colomby , Randy Brecker,
Jerry Weiss and Fred Lipsuis. These were just
some of the Jews who rocked Woodstock.
In 1958, Leslie Weinstein received a guitar as a Bar
Mitzvah present. Almost ten years later as Leslie
West, he formed the band Mountain .
In 2003, Country Joe and the Fish's drummer Gary
Hirsch told rock biographer Scott Benarde that he’d always thought of the group as a Jewish band. Actually, with a Jewish drummer, a Jewish keyboardist, half-Jewish guitarists, and a bass player whose maternal grandmother was a Jew, the band is officially only 65% Jewish.
Jefferson Airplane played Grossinger's Hotel about a year before Woodstock . Jorma Kaukonen said that he thought about his maternal grandmother, already deceased, when he played Grossinger's. He thought to himself that his Bubbie
would have enjoyed the hotel. (Nate Bloom, New Jersey Jewish Standard)
Today, Alan Cooper’s students at Jewish Theological Seminary seem to know he was Sha Na Na’s lead singer at Woodstock. They easily spot him in the film Woodstock doing the twist in the gold vest and shades to “At the Hop”. It was minutes before Jimi Hendrix would close the festival with his now classic Star Spangled Banner.
Jeff Meshel has lived in Israel for 35 years, He teaches English and theater at a Beersheba high school . (Hadassah Magazine ,September 2012 Woodstock Values Deborah Fineblum Raub)
The Museum at Bethel Woods tells the story of Woodstock on the site
of Yasgur's Farm. A monument by the road commemorates the festival.