Some say that if you remember the Sixties you weren’t there.
The Sixties was a time of revolution – and drugs. Although I was part of this era, I am grateful that the Ribono Shel Olam (G-d) helped me get through it without frying my brain. (Although I somehow avoided doing drugs, I did once go into a movie theater full of students and noticed a rather pronounced sweet musty odor. So I can truthfully say that, although I never smoked marijuana, I did inhale.)
The Sixties was also a time of idealism. Young people were opposed to the Vietnam War. They bundled this with opposition to racism, and expected to produce a new world, the “Age of Aquarius,” which would bring peace, love, a hatred of money and property, and equal distribution of all worldly goods. The streets were filled with protests, demonstrations, and sometimes alternative forms of expression (“riots”). It was, of course, entirely coincidental that the unrest began about the time that Congress did away with draft deferments for college students and ended when the draft was repealed.
I greatly feared the draft, opposed the war, and attended some of the demonstrations but deliberately avoided Harvard Square during one of the more violent expressions of idealism. And I believed. I believed in the leaders of the revolution. Oh, there were the political leaders, people like Abbie Hoffman, author of Steal This Book, which many booksellers stopped selling since shoppers tended to steal it, and Jerry Rubin, leader of the Yippies, who lead a march on the Pentagon and disrupted the New York Stock Exchange. But even more charismatic were the singers: Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary, and the great Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman). At first I was captivated by their “pure” folk music, which to me was an honest expression of common people’s emotions and pain. Then came the protest and political songs, written in the same style, played with acoustic guitars and even Appalachian dulcimers. I would spend hours listening to them, wishing I could either sing or play the guitar, and convinced that I was hearing the sound of a new age of virtue and purity.
Yet there was another revolution beginning at this time. For me, it started in college when I ventured into a Bible study class being given at a local girls college – entirely so I could meet some young ladies. Instead, I met Rabbi Chaim Horowitz, a brilliant scholarly man, who amazed me by taking Bible stories seriously. Some other students were equally amazed, and by my senior year, we rented a house together and tried to observe Shabbos and kashrus. Oh, there were a few errors, such as the Friday night when there was a power failure and we were left with only the Shabbos candles. Not knowing if it was permitted to use them for light (!) we went in another room and ate in the dark. Then there was the time I decided to start putting on tefilin. Well, doing it every day was too much, so I decided to start by putting them on only once per week. What day should I choose? Was any day different from any other? Of course – Shabbos!
By the time I entered graduate school in Boston, the “BT” revolution was going into full swing. A rather motley (stress on “motley”) group of students hung around the home of the Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Horowitz, zt”l, and somehow he tolerated us. He even smiled one time while sitting and learning when a student slapped him on the back and said, “How’s it going Rebs?” Then there was the motzaei Shabbos that he knew I did not have a car, so he drove me and a certain lady out for our date. (He greatly believed in shidduchim!) I also remember that day that a number of us were discussing the fact that he was a Rebbe and perhaps we should stand up when he came into the room. After we introduced this revolutionary practice, we began to wonder whether we should ask him for brachos and realized we didn’t know how to do this. Somehow, we muddled through, and the Rebbe maintained his sanity.
The Rebbe’s patience was accompanied by his wisdom. On one occasion, a couple of students wanted to marry but were fiercely opposed by both sets of anti-Orthodox parents, who threatened to break up the wedding ceremony. The Rebbe coached the couple in telling the parents that they were already married, which included a carefully designed halachic procedure to allow the girl to borrow the wedding ring to convince her mother that she had missed the ceremony. The actual chasana was one of the most beautiful I have ever experienced. In a friend’s backyard, the music was a guy with a guitar, and the seuda was egg and tuna salad served on paper plates. The simcha was indescribable.
The teshuva revolution paralleled the age of “peace and love” and the Vietnam War. One of our group lost his draft deferment and was in danger of being called up. There were no more new student deferments, but there was a protected 4-D status for a rabbi or clergyman. What could be done? Simple. Start a shul with him as the rabbi. (He had legitimate smicha in addition to being a graduate student.) An apartment was rented, a sefer Torah borrowed, and a minyan for Shacharis occurred every day. Now remember: We were all ’60s college students, so each morning a different young lady was invited to make breakfast for us while we davened. One of them made pancakes that were so fantastic that on her mornings we had two minyanim show up! The shul had an official name, Makom Shivto, but no one called it that. It was known as B’nai Breakfast.
Well, the war came to an end, and the students got jobs and moved away. It is appropriate to ask, “Where are they now?”
The peace activists I believed in seemed to change. Abbie Hoffman committed suicide, and Jerry Rubin (who had disrupted the stock exchange) became a very well to do stockbroker and capitalist. The barefoot folk singing Joan Baez became wealthy, and in a recent interview said she prefers to buy her clothes in Paris. She said that things had changed. Bob Dylan, who wrote the song “The Times They Are A’Changin,’” caused controversy by straying from acoustic purity by using electronic instruments at a folk concert. He built a house in Malibu with an onion shaped dome on top. One of the most popular young singers ended up in prison – not for political reasons but due to some improper behavior with a minor. I lost my respect for Pete Seeger when I learned that he had been a supporter of Stalin and when he appeared at a benefit at which a video of Yassir Arafat was featured. I became further disillusioned when I learned that Peter Paul and Mary were not a group that came together out of their idealism but had been put together by a promoter, and that the Mary Travers (who went on to be married three times) had been chosen because they wanted an attractive thin blonde.
And what of the motley Boston crew? The pancake maker married one of the B’nai Breakfast congregants, and they daven at a chasidic shul. The couple who married in a backyard live in Meah Sha’arim. A student of Middle Eastern culture conducts archeological expeditions while wearing a black hat and a kapota (gotta be hot!). As for me, well, I wear a bekeshe on Shabbos, and I’m otherwise working on things…. The Rebbe, zt”l, has left this world, but his beautiful Torah families span the globe. The ideals of the BT revolution continued and were put into practice.
Two revolutions. Two different outcomes. Rav Kook once said that “a little bit of light drives away the darkness, since the light is real and the darkness is not.” Of the two revolutions, only one was real.