The Summer of Love swept through San Francisco in a tie-dyed haze of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll in 1967, turning the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood into a hippie haven of acid trips and musical awakenings.
But for many of the Jewish kids who flocked to the Haight a half-century ago, there was something else — a search for spirituality and meaning they felt was absent in the synagogues of their parents.
Jews were a disproportionate part of the scene, with contemporaneous and current accounts suggesting they made up a quarter to a third of the thousands of hippies who lived in — or flocked to — the Haight that summer.
Many of the spiritual, literary and musical gurus in what former Haight-Ashbury community leader Tsvi Strauch calls the “Magical Mystery Vortex” were Jewish, from poet Allen Ginsberg to Richard Alpert, a Harvard professor who was one of the early proponents of using LSD to explore human consciousness (and who in 1967 changed his name to Ram Dass).
American Judaism itself changed as a result of that hippie culture, with the Jewish Renewal movement and the growth of Chabad considered legacies of that time. (The picture on Ram Dass’ Wikipedia page is a photo of him with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a former Chabad emissary and one of the founders of Jewish Renewal.)
Aryae Coopersmith, whose book “Holy Beggars: A Journey from Haight Street to Jerusalem” details his spiritual journey that began in the hippie culture of San Francisco, argues that Jews seeking a higher sense of purpose provided much of the impetus for the hippie happenings of the late 1960s.
Coopersmith, a resident of El Granada on the San Mateo County coast and the founder of a company that seeks to create bonds among Silicon Valley executives, grew up in New Jersey in the 1950s and said he became an atheist after his bar mitzvah.
“There was something in me that deeply craved a spiritual life but that did not find it in the synagogue at that time,” he said. “When we were at Haight Street and there was LSD and there were other young people of Jewish background and some of the spiritual leaders were there, we were fuel for that [hippie] fire.
“Although the Summer of Love was not identified as a Jewish cultural happening, so much of it was Jewish people who were seeking community.”
Many of those Jews later gravitated to the…