It was billed as “three days of peace and music,” and there was plenty of both.
But the sprawling musical adventure at Woodstock also had a dark side.
Some Sullivan County residents who never much liked the infusion of Jews and other city slickers were even less enamored of the throngs of hippies that flooded the region 40 years ago.
And they didn’t keep it to themselves, recalls Michael Hill Goldstein, whose family had a hotel next to Max Yasgur’s Bethel farm, site of the concert.
“The anti-Semites up there saw it as the Jews who were the ones bringing [the concert] up there,” said Goldstein, who was 6 at the time and helping out at Esther Manor in Monticello. “[Local] kids would drive by in their cars in the weeks leading up to [Woodstock] screaming out ‘Jews, Commies, go home’ or ‘hippies go home.’ They broke down the fence at our hotel. I remember my grandfather having to stand guard one night. They threw manure onto the lawn of the hotel because we were close with Yasgur.”
Yasgur and the Goldsteins weren’t the only ones targeted. Elliot Tiber, who at first tried to lure the concert to his family’s El Monaco Hotel, then introduced the promoters to Yasgur, told the upstate Times Herald Record in an interview on the 20th anniversary of Woodstock that he was threatened for his role.
“They’d say that [the concert] will never happen, that we will break your legs,” Tiber, whose memoir was made into the new Ang Lee film “Taking Woodstock,” told the Record. “There was terrible name-calling. It was anti-Semitic and anti-hippies. It was dirty and filthy.”
As the community of Jewish farmers, hoteliers and other businessmen and their families in Sullivan County grew from the turn of the 20th century, so did the occasional anti-Semitic backlash.
“There were huge German enclaves and lots of Bundist activities, especially in Smallwood, which was right [in the area],” said the Brooklyn-raised Goldstein, referring to a community that was restricted until the mid-1950s, and today contains many Jewish-owned vacation homes.
Goldstein, who is now director of public information at Kingsborough Community College and lives in East Brunswick, N.J., recalls that his grandfather Abe and Yasgur welcomed the concert, though they were hardly supporters of the Flower Power movement.
“They were right-wing Republicans and pro-Nixon,” he said. “But the Catskills were dying and they saw [the concert] as a way to make money. My grandfather owned a lot of stores in Monticello, a liquor store, a candy store. … He rented out trailers to these kids. I know he made money from it, so it was a mixed thing for him and Max.”
Two aunts, Irene and Esther, pitched in for more altruistic reasons, said Goldstein. “They were extraordinarily kindhearted Jewish women,” he said. “They decided they were going to feed these kids as they were going by. They made sandwiches and poured [extra] chlorine into the pool to let them take baths. Remember, [Route] 17B was a parking lot from Monticello all the way to White Lake, so they were saying, If they were my kids I’d want somebody to feed them.”
Goldstein’s grandfather, who held a state trooper’s badge given to prominent local businessmen, managed to get through to the festival one day and brought Michael with him. He believes it was the second day, Saturday.
“I was standing on a rock looking at a sea of humanity. All the kids were wandering around naked and muddy. I remember it like it was yesterday. I saw the stage and heard the music, but I didn’t know the bands.”
Brown University sociologist Phil Brown, co-founder of the Catskills Institute, said some manifestation of anti-Semitism has always been a fact of life in the region.
“There are people who still say today that the hotels took everything and left and that all the religious camps are not paying taxes,” said Brown, who was working at a hotel in Swan Lake that summer and never made it to Woodstock. “But there were two local responses to Woodstock: That it was dirty and there were hippies and traffic, but also that this was something very interesting and novel.”