‘Why can’t we eat veggie burritos tonight? Will I be miracled? Will they play ‘The Wheel?’ Will Phil sing?”
These four additional questions were asked last Wednesday night at a Passover seder that’s quickly becoming a new Bay Area tradition.
Fans of the legendary counterculture band the Grateful Dead celebrated Passover for the third year in a row at Terrapin Crossroads, the Marin County club owned by the band’s bassist, Phil Lesh. This was the first year that seders were held on consecutive nights, Tuesday and Wednesday. Tickets for both sold out within minutes; 150 guests attended each night.
These seders were unlike many others in that after the reading of the Haggadah and a meal of matzah ball soup and brisket, the tables were cleared to make way for a dance floor, and guests were treated to an hour-and-a-half set of music by Lesh and friends, the Terrapin All Stars.
Lesh and his wife, Jill, opened Terrapin Crossroads in 2012, with community building part of its mission. Lesh, who is not Jewish, had always noticed the disproportionate number of Jews among the band’s fans, known as Deadheads. Encouraged by Ross James, a Jewish guitarist in his band, Phil Lesh and Friends, Lesh decided in 2013 to hold a Chanukah menorah lighting.
It was so popular that when it came to a seder, “we felt we had no choice,” James told the J. Weekly in 2014.
Enter Jeannette Ferber. A cantorial soloist at the Renewal synagogue Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley, Ferber and her husband, Cory, were Terrapin regulars. Ferber offered to help with the menorah lighting, which led to her becoming the go-to person to form a seder planning committee.
In 2014, she led the first seder, and was invited to sing a song that night with the band of Bay Area musicians in Lesh’s post-Dead circle. (The surviving members of the Dead — Lesh, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, who is Jewish — have performed in solo projects and bands since the band’s last major tour in 2009.)
At both seders this year, Ferber sang numerous songs, including Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which for years has been part of the High Holidays liturgy at Chochmat HaLev, and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Most of the songs sung over the two nights had some kind of connection to Passover or the Bible, like the Dead’s “Samson and Delilah.” In “All New Minglewood Blues,” James changed the lyric from “a couple shots of whiskey” to “a couple shots of Manischewitz.”
This year the seder was led for the first time by Wendy Garf-Lipp, of Dartmouth, Mass., who flew across the country for the event. Garf-Lipp has taught at Solomon Schechter day schools in Jericho, on Long Island, and Providence. Her son Ezra Lipp, an alumnus of the Providence Schechter, is now a frequent drummer for Lesh.
“I’m 60 and he’s 32. L’dor v’dor,” said Garf-Lipp of her son, using the Hebrew phrase meaning “from generation to generation.” “To have this 30-year gap between the two of us and share this music that we both love” is an incredible thing, she said. “To see your child taking the music you grew up with and reinterpreting it for a new audience is spiritual.”
Garf-Lipp has been a Deadhead since 1967, and was at their legendary concert at the Great Pyramid of Giza in 1978. She had been in Israel when it was announced.
“I’ve always seen Judaism as this f
As soon as her son began playing at Terrapin Crossroads, she knew she wanted to be involved with the seder. She offered to revamp the Haggadah and spent six months working on it.
Culled from a range of Haggadot — including ones produced by the Reform movement, Chabad and the JQ International Jewish LGBT group — it includes readings about contemporary social issues like human trafficking and domestic violence.
Besides lighting the candles, Lesh narrated the Passover story and could be seen singing his way through the four questions along with the crowd.
And that epic journey the Jews took in the desert after the exodus, and the hundred generations since? What a long, strange trip it’s been…