Looking out the window of her Mendocino Mustard kitchens, Devora Rossman sees the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Occasionally a gray whale swims lazily by, on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
With her cats curled up nearby, Rossman helps her staff prepare the day’s batch of Hot & Sweet kosher mustard. It’s the flagship product of the Fort Bragg-based business she founded in 1977.
Rossman finds herself, at 62, living out a dream she dreamed long ago.
It was a dream that took shape in Haight-Ashbury, where everyone wore flowers in their hair. It was a dream that burst into psychedelic glory in Golden Gate Park, where thousands gathered in the summer of 1967.
With the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, Jewish veterans of the long strange trip can’t help but look back. Though the pan-spirituality of the times allowed no room for traditional religion, Jews who were there agree Jewish values informed much of the hippie worldview.
Chabad of S.F. Rabbi Yosef Langer, at the time a San Jose State University student, today sees beyond the peace signs and roach clips. He perceives something more significant coming out of the Summer of Love.
“The yearning for utopia, in spiritual terminology the promise of the Prophets, is what this generation was all about: Everyone is looking for the time when we will live in peace and harmony. That’s what happened with the busting out of the hippie and political revolution.”
It was indeed a revolution.
Consider the confluence of social upheavals: The civil rights movement, anti-war activism and the popularity of mind-altering drugs. All of that swirled around baby boomers with the revelatory power of a burning bush.
And for young seekers, the Promised Land was the city by the bay.
As a Jew involved in leftist politics from the late ’50s on, Berkeley resident Michael Rossman, Devora Rossman’s brother, sees a connection between the hippies and the Jewish mandate to repair the world.
“The counterculture project as it emerged from 1965 to 1967 was not ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out,'” he says. “It was to make a more authentic life between people generally. A large part of it was Jewish — Red-diaper babies who wanted to repair the world.”
To trace the origins of the hippie movement is no easy feat, but one place to start would be May 1965, when the San Francisco Mime Troupe published the manifesto “Guerrilla Theater,” a blueprint for social change.
The Mime Troupe had been a popular S.F. arts ensemble, thanks in part to its determination to break the boundaries between artist and audience.
Judy Goldhaft was a member. Born in New Jersey and raised in a secular Jewish family, she “always wanted to make a difference in the world. My grandfather said, ‘Cast your bread upon the waters and it will be returned.’ There was a lot of value placed on education and helping people.”
A dancer by training, Goldhaft moved to the Bay Area in 1961. She joined the Mime Troupe, enthralled by its brand of radical street theater.
Actor Peter Coyote (born Robert Peter Cohon) grew up in a secular Jewish household steeped in left-wing politics. He migrated to the Bay Area in the mid-’60s, and it wasn’t long before he discovered the troupe.
“There were many Jewish people in the company,” says the 65-year-old Marin County resident, “and much of the humor was very Jewish: ironic, silly, skeptical and acute. The reason I’m always comfortable being around Jews, there is this essence of being an outsider and with that goes a kind of inherent skepticism.”
In 1966, Coyote, Goldhaft, Davis and others formed the Diggers. Named for an English utopian society, the Diggers provided theoretical ballast for the evolving scene. They wrote manifestos, organized street theater and opened free stores that gave away everything.
“The Diggers grew out of this perception that culture was a more enduring force than politics,” says Coyote. “We dedicated our skills to creating events that would unpack cultural premises, particularly around ideas of being a consumer, an employee and money.”
Goldhaft sums up their credo: “Everything is free, and do your own thing. If you were freed from materialistic necessities, if your basic human needs were provided, what’s the most beautiful way you could live?”
Young people living in the Haight began answering that question. Communal living, sexual liberation, music and drugs shaped the Haight’s emerging ethos.
“Marijuana was like breathing,” recalls Caroline Fromm Lurie, laughing. “It was around all the time. There was no one I knew who didn’t smoke.”
A native of San Francisco, Fromm Lurie grew up the daughter of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. She remembers a childhood in which intellectual curiosity — if not Jewish religious tradition — was highly prized. “My father always said to me, ‘Everything can always be taken away from you,'” she recalls. “The most important thing is education.”
To that end, she attended U.C. Berkeley as a literature major. For a while, the willowy 21-year-old dressed in black, and made a second home of City Lights Books in North Beach.
But as the Haight became the center of the counterculture universe, Fromm Lurie fell in, swapping Kerouac black for Lucy-in-the-Sky rainbow colors.
“I wish I still had those clothes,” she says. “I wore bell-bottoms, beads and hand-made sandals. I had lots of tie-dyed shirts. I tie-dyed sheets, curtains, lampshades and all my underwear.”
Says Michael Rossman: “Who could plan such a thing? It was a spontaneous development from our hearts. There were all these internal wonders of the human landscape to be explored, and there was a whole sick society to recreate.”
David Simpson was a Digger foot soldier. The product of a traditional Midwestern Jewish family, Simpson joined the Coast Guard and moved to California, then became a member of the Mime Troupe and, later, the Diggers. He, too, sees a Jewish connection within the Digger outlook.
“Different impulses come out of American Judaism,” he says, “but one of them is a kind of universal do-goodism. We were all righteous people. We believed we were a force for positive change.”
Simpson’s then-girlfriend, Jane Lapiner, was a Digger and choreographer/dancer. The New York native came from a secular Jewish leftist family, migrating to the Bay Area as the Haight-Ashbury scene flowered.
And she was smack in the middle of it. Lapiner’s apartment became a popular neighborhood crash pad. “We’d wake up in the morning with a dozen people sleeping on the floor,” she recalls.
Though held Jan. 14, 1967 — in the dead of winter — the Human Be-In arguably kicked off the Summer of Love. Thousands came together in a “gathering of tribes.” Allen Ginsberg read poetry. Timothy Leary uttered his famous dictum, “Tune in, turn on, drop out.”
But by then a sense of trepidation had begun brewing among the Diggers. Could the scene be growing too much, too fast?
They warned of an upcoming summer invasion — a “worldwide pilgrimage” — of hundreds of thousands of hippies coming for the Summer of Love.
“The Diggers did not call it that,” emphasizes Coyote. “But the Haight independent proprietors and [San Francisco hippie gazette] the Oracle did. They were trying to get a national branding of the Haight-Ashbury to sell their beads and hash pipes.”
Devora Rossman came to the city that summer. “I had a real sense of wonder at how open young people’s minds were becoming,” she remembers, “and this huge sense of optimism that we could change the world.”
Around the Bay, most in the Jewish community couldn’t make sense of the hippie movement, even as its trappings impacted congregations. At Redwood City’s Temple Beth Jacob, Rabbi David Teitelbaum (now rabbi emeritus) remembers the summer of 1967 well.
“It was a hectic time,” he says. “The war in Vietnam was tearing the country apart, as the Iraq war is now. Despite ‘Make love, not war,’ kids here were more rebellious and at times more abrasive then usual. The confirmation class rebelled against the usual type of program, and insisted on writing their own.”
Teitelbaum occasionally came into the city to check out the Haight. “It was certainly very different, and at times hard to predict what would come of it,” he recalls. “The people were a lot more open and tolerant of differences, but at the same time they were looking for new kinds of thrills, including drugs.”
Langer remembers his quest to find his own place in the world. He did smoke pot before he found Orthodox Judaism, and particularly loved the music of the era. “My entry to self-realization was through music,” he says. “I saw Hendrix, Janis Jopin, the Grateful Dead. There was a special vibe in the air. Everyone was on the magical mystery tour.”
Tourists, too, were drawn to the Haight. Thanks to the media hysteria, buses of camera-toting gawkers choked the streets. Some hippies held up mirrors to the tourists as a form of passive-aggressive protest.
National magazines and TV news outlets were all over the Summer of Love story. As for the local Jewish press? Not so much.
In the Jewish Bulletin, j.’s predecessor, there was scant mention of the events rocking the city. On July 14, 1967 the Bulletin announced that the Jewish Family Service Agency and United Jewish Community Centers had teamed up for a program of social services for the “hippy youth” in the Haight. Among the program’s objectives: a communications network with other “rabbinic and welfare agencies across the country — in cases where Jewish youth want to return home.”
The Bulletin also ran a story on Sept. 1, 1967 announcing the Orthodox Union’s new Torah Guide on Sex, published to keep “abreast of the contemporary ‘love generation.'”
On Oct. 6, 1967 the Diggers staged a “Death of the Hippie” parade through the streets of the Haight. It was their way of saying that that phase of the movement was over.
In reality, though some members of the Haight counterculture had fled for rural communes or points unknown, the community remained very much alive.
The following spring, on the night of the vernal equinox, Simpson and Lapiner held a Passover seder at their home on Pierce Street. Safe to say, in the history of the Jewish people there has never been a seder like that one. Before or since.
“It was Diggers and Hells Angels and all of our friends,” remembers Goldhaft. “There were maybe a couple of hundred people. Jane and David emptied the whole first floor and put out little low tables so we could recline.”
Adds Simpson, “After the event people were [having sex] on the tables. There were porno films on the back walls. I did make some challah.”
As for Jewish ritual that night, Goldhaft remembers her son Aaron, then 4, reciting the Four Questions: “Why is this night different from all other nights.”
Poet Allen Ginsberg looked at the boy and said in reply, “Just look around.”
It is an article of faith among social conservatives that the root of all modern American evils can be traced to the permissive anything-goes ’60s.
Those who were there beg to differ.
Coyote became a distinguished film and stage actor, writer and activist. He reveres his Jewish cultural identity, though he practices Buddhism today. But his days on the streets of San Francisco stay with him.
“Without a doubt it informs my daily life,” he says. “And you know something? We were right. We worked out a kinder, gentler way to live. We didn’t solve the problems of greed, hate and delusion, but we found a more imaginative compelling cultural reality.”
Goldhaft, still living in San Francisco, and her husband, Peter Berg, went on to found Planet Drum, a pioneering environmental organization that developed the concepts of bioregional sustainability.
“It’s time to recognize we are one species out of many,” she says. “It’s to our advantage to maintain bio regions as sustainable living spaces that can maintain our needs, rather than exploiting nature. All of that goes back to the ’60s and a reconsideration of industrial society.”
Fromm Lurie became a clinical psychologist and today is married to Rabbi Brian Lurie, former executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.
“The people I’m drawn to today all have the same sympathies I had,” she says. “That era tapped into a very soulful artistic and expressive side of people. It was a time that encouraged demonstrating who you were from the inside as opposed to a more conservative stance that you hold it together and toe the line. I still subscribe to that.”
Michael Rossman taught science in Berkeley schools for years, curates an extensive collection of ’60s-era posters, and remains militantly proud of the values forged back then.
“It’s clear how prescient and important it was,” he says of the ’60s. “The ameliorative impulse of the new left was not abandoned when people started smoking dope. It was broadened, deepened and grounded. ‘Let’s treat each other better. Let’s be more sexual. Let’s be good to the Earth.'”
Simpson and Lapiner live in Humboldt County. He works on reforestation and protecting wild salmon habitat — his pilot programs became models for the industry. Lapiner teaches dance and runs her own theater company, Human Nature.
The couple still celebrate Passover, only much more conventionally. They remain proud Jews.
Langer went on to build Chabad’s Bay Area presence and pioneer the annual public menorah-lighting ceremony in Union Square, a tradition he started with the late rock impresario Bill Graham.
The rabbi says the Summer of Love “showed people’s yearning for something more, popping the superficial bubble and embracing reality in one another. People know who they are inside. No matter how much drugs or alcohol or therapy, it only goes so far. God has given us a path to follow in order to get in touch with ourselves.”
And up in Mendocino, taking a break from the mustard trade, Devora Rossman reflects that she “very much identifies as a Jew.” She is a member of the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community.
While not religious per se, she feels a deep spiritual connection to the world around her — a connection made in those early days in San Francisco, when summertime was a love-in there.
“There is an enduring aspect,” she says. “I don’t look at the superficial drugs and clothes. I look more at the sense of community: that we live on one small planet, that we’re all brethren and that the Earth needs to be taken care of.”
Cover illustration by Cathleen Maclearie