Touch of Pray: Celebrating Shabbat and the Grateful Dead
July 7, 2015 by Howard Blas
CHICAGO (JTA) â€” What a long, strange trip itâ€™s been for Shu Eliovson.
Over 70,000 fans packing Chicagoâ€™s Soldier Field for the finale of the Grateful Deadâ€™s three-concert Fare Thee Well Tour, July 5, 2015.
resident of Kfar Maimon, a religious moshav in southern Israel, Eliovson is CEO and co-founder
of the tech start-up
Likeminder, an anonymous social networking site for â€œauthentic conversationâ€ with â€œlikemindedâ€ people. He is also an ordained rabbi, though his colorful pants, fedora and purple T-shirt
with the Grateful Deadâ€™s famed dancing bear logo make him unconventional, to say the least.
A father of five, Eliovson is also the founder of JamShalom, a â€œgrassroots movement bringing spiritual connection to music festivals across North America.â€ Since 2011, he has become a legendary face and somewhat of a pied piper to fellow Jewish travelers on the American jam band scene. Eliovson speaks of music festivals as â€œa tremendous opportunity to create a spiritual encounterâ€ and looks for places to â€œthrow down a big Shabbos.â€
â€œJamShalom is about celebrating the inherent spiritual joy of music, and its power to bring like-spirited
people together and sharing a Jewish experience that is unique,â€ Eliovson told JTA.
And what better place to have an epic Shabbat â€œthrowdownâ€ than the Grateful Deadâ€™s highly anticipated Fare Thee Well Tour â€” three nights of shows, Friday through Sunday, at Chicagoâ€™s Soldier Field marking the 50th anniversary of the bandâ€™s founding (as well as the 20th anniversary of the groupâ€™s final show with frontman Jerry Garcia)?
Typically, Grateful Dead shows (along with those of their like-minded
brethren, like Phish) occur over several days at venues in which camping becomes an integral part of the experience. But due to strict ordinances against camping in downtown Chicago, Eliovson found himself in a bind in the weeks leading up to the Deadâ€™s final shows: How to create a temporary, intentional community in a space where camping wasnâ€™t allowed. And how would folks keep the spirit of Shabbat if they needed to shlep far distances to the stadium?
â€œI needed a miracle!â€ Eliovson quipped, using the familiar Dead lingo.
His â€œmiracleâ€ came in the form of Rabbi Leibel Moscowitz of Chabad of the South Loop. After a few calls, Moscowitz was able to offer use of an undeveloped (but highly visible to concertgoers) lot owned by a Chabad supporter. Eliovson was granted permission to set up several RVs and a Shabbat tent. Along with his 18-year-old daughter and a few members of the JamShalom crew, he set out by van from New York to Chicago, kosher food in tow.
On Thursday evening, the entourage began setting up camp â€” only to discover, at 9pm, that the ban on RV camping was to be strictly enforced, even on a privately owned lot. The JamShalom village was shut down; desperate posts on Facebook informed followers that the group was seeking a new site.
With Shabbat only four hours away, on Friday afternoon the group worked out a deal with a less conspicuous parking lot on South Michigan Avenue, one block from the Chabad HQ at a luxury residential building and just a few blocks from Soldier Field.
Volunteers quickly set up tents, chairs, tables and Grateful Dead-themed
decorations. The unexpected move meant canceling some advertised programs, like â€œMunches and Meditations with Rabbi Shu,â€ as well as the 3pm â€œBeer and Blessings.â€ But fortunately, by the time Shabbat rolled in, the tent, two RVs and a colorfully painted bus with â€œGod is Oneâ€ and â€œNa Nachâ€ (for Rabbi Nachman of Bratslov) in Hebrew were set up on the site.
At 6pm, some 25 guests â€” who were encouraged to bring â€œinstruments, voices and dancing shoesâ€ â€” met for a musical Kabbalat Shabbat service. Rabbi Moshe Shur, the former director of the Queens College Hillel and a longtime member of the Jewish music scene, led the service with an inspiring rendition of â€œLecha Dodiâ€ set to the classic Dead songs â€œRippleâ€ and â€œUncle Johnâ€™s Band.â€ Midway through the service, those lucky enough to have tickets for Friday nightâ€™s show headed out.
Zach Finkelstein, 22, of Long Island, who drove from New York with the JamShalom caravan, was happy with the scene.
â€œIt is almost like going to Israel,â€ he said. â€œYou land, you feel it in your heart. You are home. There are no strangers. We are all here for the same reason â€” peace, music and a good time!â€