Learning From The Grateful Dead

Everyone is equal at any type of "Dead" show and at peace, at least for a few hours. This guy with the tattoos and I high-fived over an "Am Yisrael Chai."

The other day, on the way to see Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD) band at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, New Jersey, my phone was blowing up with texts from friends in Toronto about a young boy who was being repeatedly bullied for being Jewish on his way to school and in the playground. Someone in the community put a flyer together asking people to walk the boy to school earlier that day. I was simultaneously texting about the same topic with two of my three siblings.

All of my friends had stories about their parents being harassed and even attacked going to/from or at school, growing up in Toronto, and my siblings, who are 10 and 11 years older than me, had experienced some bullying themselves. I had never heard these stories before. All the way to the show I was thinking how history repeats itself, except with social media every incident anywhere is amplified. This can be good or bad, depending on how information is shared, by whom, and to what audience.

As soon as we entered the concert venue, it was as if all of the putrid antisemitism and anti-Zionism we’ve been seeing was fake news. Deadheads are all about peace and love, and good, transcendent music is the best equalizer we probably have. After we settled into a spot towards the front of the open-air stage, I noticed that the guy next to me was wearing a dog tag necklace. I tapped his shoulder and showed him my necklace, and he raised his so that I could see that it was from the Nova exhibit in NYC. I told him that I bought mine at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, in April; we fist bumped, then he said, “Am Israel Chai,” and we high fived. He then showed me the tattoos on backs of his calves – a Magen David on one, and a Chai (in Hebrew) on the other. Looking around, I could tell there were other Jewish ‘Heads’ in the mix, but nobody could care less where anyone was from or what they believe in.

The next day, I decided to look up Grateful Dead lyrics to further examine this community phenomenon. This was not my first show by any means, but since 10/7 I view things through a different lens. I found plenty of lyrics we can use to emulate the Dead’s ethos and make the world a better place. These are my top 10:

  1. Be you not them (college campus protesters, hello?)
  2. You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t wanna know (campus protesters, antisemites, anti-Zionists, hello?)
  3. And the politicians throwing stones, Singing ashes, ashes all fall down (you could take this quite literally re-10/7)
  4. Let’s see with our heart. These things our eyes have seen. And know the truth must still lie somewhere in between (this is a hard one for me after being on Kfar Azza and visiting the Nova site, but it’s a lovely premise)
  5. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile (not so much but if we all did, hate would have less places to go)
  6. Without love, day to day, insanity is king (insanity of terrorism, born of hate or indifference)
  7. Through this world of trouble, we must love one another (this needs no comment)
  8. A peaceful place, or so it looks from space. A closer look reveals the human race. Full of hope, full of grace, is the human face. But afraid we may lay our home to waste (this was written nearly 40 years ago, sadly, as it still rings so true)
  9. What good is spilling blood? It will not grow a thing (no, it won’t)
  10. Love will see you through (this, and hope, is all hostage families can cling to)

Of course, when I mentioned what I’m writing about to my Deadhead husband, he cited a history of comparisons to the lyrics, and the community, to the Talmud and other Jewish texts. I did a quick search and found a lot of fascinating content, including this article in Times of Israel from 2012! I’ve also known plenty of Dead-like hippies who made Aliyah, especially in the early Kibbutz days. So, my observations are nothing new, but in the context of today’s environment I think it’s an important reminder.

The concert certainly gave me some hope that at their core, people are still generally good. When we’re constantly bombarded by texts, e-mails and posts in our social media feeds about all the ugly stuff going on in the world, it can be hard to believe this.

In the case of the little boy in Toronto, at least 150 people showed up to walk him into school. A good friend of mine and her family were among them. Social media helped that happen, and then a lot of footage was shared of the moment with a variety of community leaders speaking out against hate and antisemitism. I think Jerry Garcia would have approved of this, but he’s probably rolling in his grave over the bad stuff. Thankfully, the music never stops.

About the Author
Reba Stevens is a public relations executive who grew up in Canada, lived and studied in Israel and has been in the US for the past 25 years.
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