Why are about 30% of Phish fans Jewish?
I posed this question on Facebook and got a variety of responses from friends. Much of the feedback were wisecracks about the eating of traditional Jewish pesco-delicacies such as Herring, Lox, and Gefiltefish, to name a few. Even though eating salty fish is a traditional practice that leaves one thirsting, many find it too reminiscent of the long-cried tears of fasting old-timers over their antiquated English translations of Yom Kippur services.
Many of the new generation of Jews seem to prefer the healthier “baked” Phish with a “side of mushrooms”. And while, I do agree that Jews eat a lot of fish, I have a suspicion that the Jewish connection to the Jam music world is deeper than its, eh-chem, dietary habits. The reason I ask this question at all is because, approximately 30% of the Jam Band audience is Jewish (The Jewish Daily Forward, “Phish Phans Give Phinal Phreylach Pharewell to Band”By Laurie Hahn and Aaron J. Tapper, Published August 20, 2004) while the percentage of Jews in the world is less than 1%. This disproportionate representation
begs the question, “What are Jam Bands offering to Jewish youth that Judaism is not?”
Many Jews refer to themselves as “part of the tribe”. It sounds nice, but I wonder, “Where in the modern day synagogue service, or the Torah study hall is the tribal experience?” When I hear the word tribe, a picture of Africans with painted faces dancing to drums around the fire pit immediately comes to mind. I have experienced some deep tribal moments in synagogue, but only after moving to Israel and delving deep into a culture far from the American Judaism that I saw growing up. And even there, in the heart of it, I often longed for a deeper sense of unity and spiritual intensity.
Judaism is founded on the collective experience; an entire nation of millions of people receiving prophecy from the Creator of the universe. It says in the Torah that we were “like one person with one heart”. Seemingly, there is a connection between our unity as a nation and our capacity for collective, spiritual experience. One thing I think we can all agree upon is that we find a real sense of unity amongst the crowd at a Jam Band show. As the band improvises, the crowd feeds off its energy and the band in turn feeds off the dynamism of the crowd and together a collective consciousness is nurtured. All share in and contribute to these fertile, ecstatic moments in a unification of the upper creative, spiritual realm and the physical space below; the buzz is magnificent.
Out in the parking lot, like-minded friends gather with goods, stories, songs, and kind words. Some love it so much that they opt out of contemporary society for a while and join the Jam Band caravan, traveling from festival to festival with the hopes of
gaining expanded insights on attaining ultimate joy. The community feeling is something we all wish was a part of our daily experience in this misanthropic, digitalized modern world. The “I need a miracle” signs dotted throughout the parking lots are a plea for a free ticket to the upcoming show. These signs remind me of the longing faces of those waiting for their 3am appointments with the holy “guru” rabbis of Jerusalem; both searching for a free ticket to “salvation”.
Three thousand, five hundred years after that historical moment on Mount Sinai, in a land so historically and ideologically far away, the message is harder to hear than ever before. Many spiritual seekers have run thirsting, from their drab Hebrew school
memories in search of something relevant, meaningful, and alive. Jews are starved for spirituality and community. It’s clear that a great part of the Jewish education system has sorely failed to offer its youth a positive and exciting message that leaves them fervidly awaiting their next encounters. Modern day American Rabbis have wondered why so many youth have fled the synagogue to the Ashram. In many cases, they are the spiritual seekers who have run away from Friday night services, which can barely be heard through the chatter of sports news and financial tips by the “religious” congregation. A body of laws without any
explanation of its deeper meaning and an absence of a community with role models who connect to their Judiasm in an honest, consistent and spiritual way will no longer suffice to interest the keen minds and impassioned hearts of today’s youth.
After having spent time in the hidden corners of Jerusalem, I have seen the rare righteous ones, who are gleaming with joy and glowing with positive energy. I have seen them do things that a normal human could not achieve. I have been blessed to join their ritual dance and song in deep, tribal connective moments. These spiritual leaders have reached the height of “the trip” through wisdom and unfeigned love for all of humanity, rather than substances. Their road was an arduous one. They have committed their lives to the study of ancient texts, internalizing their meanings from the most mundane to the most ethereal applications. The beauty of their high is that it doesn’t fade and leave them searching for the next stop on the