I wasn’t at “Woodstock.” I was actually in California that month. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to go even if I’d been in New York (although I might have gotten shlepped along with friends). I’m not nostalgic for the ’60’s (not that there wasn’t a time…). But I thought it would be interesting to see. It’s about 80-90 miles from where I live and a very pleasant drive on the way.
I always had the feeling that “Woodstock” was an “end,” rather than a beginning. Interestingly, some of the volunteers who work there now and who attended the original concert, said that they felt the same way.
The concert was very colorful and a little silly. Some years ago, I called it “the greatest protest against maturation in the history of the world!”
But seeing some of the footage and reading some of the blurbs on the walls, I realized that for me, “Woodstock” had had the potential to introduce elements of caring and giving into the wider culture. While it might have done so to some extent, it’s easier to see how it introduced “styles” (long hair; batik; etc.) into the mainstream, that then became businesses about those styles. The outcome wasn’t that people changed; the outcome was that new products were discovered and marketed. I felt very removed from it; not by any kind of elitism — it just wasn’t what had inspired me most about the early ’60’s while I was living through them.
I realized, too, in retrospect, that 1968 — the year preceding “Woodstock” — had also been a year in which “action” changed from doing something to help people face-to-face, to large-scale political action. Again, I remember feeling kind of “out of it,” without quite realizing why or how.
So, in its own way, Bethel Woods reminded me of what had inspired me most in the early-to-mid ’60’s: Helping, and the hope that we could each take actions that would make the world better.
After “Woodstock,” I found myself being called “a-political;” kind of like “dropping out” without leaving New York. I probably seemed that way; in fact, I was lost.
In June of ’68, I remember seeing a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” done by a teen drama group at a community center I worked in. I couldn’t have been more moved. I suddenly found myself relating to a level of Judaism I’d all but forgotten about.
In 1971, I started doing TM (Transcendental Meditation). Four years later, that led to my beginning to re-attend synagogue services for the first time since I was 13. How strange now to think of myself in Young Israel of Co-op City — standing up when everyone stood up, sitting down when everyone sat down; not understanding a single word, yet feeling a profound comfort and sense of being in a place I wanted to be.
It’s ironic that now, 43 years later, “Woodstock” is actually giving me some perspective on what was happening to me back then and on what I still find most inspiring about life.