Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

What was the legacy of Woodstock?

We were all at Woodstock., which happened exactly fifty years ago today.

Our music, our culture – even some of our very assumptions about life itself – all emerged from that weekend.

Consider the song “Woodstock,” written by Joni Mitchell, and recorded by her and by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

It was the anthem of that era, and it has much to teach us.

Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, “tell me, where are you going?”
This he told me…

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden…

And maybe it’s the time of year
Yes, and maybe it’s the time of man
And I don’t know who I am
But life is for learning..

And I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation…

What did we believe?

A textual commentary.

I came upon a child of God. We are all children of God, all of us children of Adam and Eve. That is basic to our human dignity. We are all human beings.

In that sense, we are all the same, even in our affirmation of our uniqueness. At Woodstock, that was all that mattered.

The Woodstock festival did not happen in Woodstock. It happened in Bethel, New York – as in Beit El, the house of God, and we are all children of that god.

We are stardust; we are golden; we are billion year old carbon.

You are not only a child of God.

You are a child of the universe.

We are the remnants of the cosmic dust that has been around as long as the Big Bang.

It is not just vast quantities of psychedelic drugs that would have prompted that idea.

The contemporary Jewish mystical teacher, Larry Kushner, steeped himself in the teachings of molecular biology – and this is what he taught:

It is entirely probable that some of the molecular stuff that has gone into, is in, or will go into what we call us has come or will yet go to the furthest reaches of the cosmos. It is also entirely probable that some of our molecular stuff has come from the primeval fireball of creation itself. That we might have within our very bodies some of the matter that was there during the first moment of creation. Or, that we are breathing the same air that Moses breathed.

As we used to say: Heavy.

Maybe it’s the time of year, and maybe it’s the time of man. As children of God, and as children of the cosmos, let us now declare that we have entered a new season of civilization.

This is a new “time of man!” (Fifty years ago, our gender language was anything but “woke.”)

This was an “Aquarian music festival!”

This is the age of Aquarius, as they sang on Broadway at the same time as Woodstock.

This festival was a messianic moment, a page turner, a three day Shabbat, that would signify the ultimate Shabbat of space and time.

But, meanwhile, in the midst of that preparation for Shabbat…

I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes riding shotgun in the sky. It was not a dream. It was the ever-present nightmare. This was the time of Viet Nam.

Turning into butterflies above our nation.

So:

  • We are children of God.
  • We are children of the universe.
  • While there are bomber jet planes, don’t worry.
  • Because we have entered a new time in human history.
  • There will be no more bomber jet planes.
  • The bomber jet planes will become butterflies.

And, what was the theology of Woodstock?

We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

As in, the Garden of Eden.

To return to the womb, childhood, and innocence.

We wanted peace. We wanted love. We wanted a perpetual Shabbat of the soul.

“All you need is love,” the Beatles sang.

“C’mon people, now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try and love one another right now,” the Youngbloods sang.

Fun fact: the anniversary of Woodstock coincides with the minor, overlooked Jewish festival of erotic love, Tu B’Av, in which women went out into the vineyards and courted men.

I am all in favor of erotic love. And, love of God. And, love of the stranger. And, love of humanity.

But, the enthronement of love above everything is delightful and naive to the realities of human existence.

Decades later, still imbued with the spirit of Woodstock, thus sang the late Richie Havens: “I don’t want to know about evil. I only want to know about love.”

That was the problem. We didn’t want to know about evil.

But, the world was and is radically broken.

The bomber jet planes riding shotgun in the sky have not turned into butterflies above our nation.

The Messiah has not come.

Every cynical statement in our tradition about the coming of the Messiah has proven itself true.

Like the story of the man in the shtetl who has a job — to announce the coming of the Messiah. The pay stinks, but the work is steady, he said.

Like the teaching of the sages: “If there is a sapling in your hand, and someone tells you the Messiah has come, first, plant the sapling. Then, greet the Messiah.”

Deal with what is in your hands, not what is in your dreams. Get your hands dirty.

This was one of the redemptive teachings of Zionism. Get your hands dirty, and build a land and a new society.

In large measure, Zionism was the product of the idealistic dreams and activism of young people. It was a youth movement that wanted to overthrow an older, passive Jewish way of dealing with the world.

They, also, wanted a new world.

Alas, “utopia” literally means u-topos.

There is no such place.

In the words of the late Jewish historian, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi:

Not for us the new Age of Aquarius, not seventy five years after the Holocaust, and with the knowledge that it could happen again. We are, for better or worse, somewhere in between, in the midst of history, where nothing is pure or clear, where good and evil, joy and suffering, hope and despair, coexist and commingle.

We have outgrown our naivete and our willed innocence about the world.

Our vision? That is still there, tempered by our reality.

And the music?

Still there.

May I never outgrow the music.

 

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.