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Do You Remember Woodstock?

April 30, 2009 By:
Ben G. Frank, JE Feature
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In late summer of 1969, 17-year-old Steven Buchwald, then working in a Catskill Mountains resort, received a phone call to attend a concert in a town called Woodstock.

Even though he knew that he'd lose his end-of-season-tips, Buchwald -- back then a self-described hippie with long hair and dressed in torn jeans and T-shirt -- literally "flew" out of the resort for the concert.

Today, Buchwald, dressed in slacks, shirt and business jacket, heads a $5 million flower and event company. And he doesn't regret a thing.

"We accomplished something; we moved society to open up a little," he said of that landmark concert.

In Chicago, Gale Liebman, a retired teacher and community activist, does not cringe when the word "hippie" is mentioned. She recalled that for her, Woodstock was "fabulous."

"I celebrate that I've had that opportunity ... of peace, love and beads," she said.

The Woodstock Festival, originally called an Aquarian Exposition, did not occur in the village of Woodstock, but in Bethel -- more than 40 miles away and 50 miles from New York City. A half-million young people gathered for the three-day music festival in August 1969.

Today, as the 40th anniversary of the event approaches, those fields have been transformed into a $100 million performing-arts center, including a Museum at Bethel Woods.

Woodstock in a way was a microcosm of the decade of the 1960s. Its impact of changed lifestyles had a longtime influence on the health of a nation -- how we saw ourselves when re-evaluating long-held values and beliefs.

"That community spirit still resonates with me," said Liebman, who pointed out that she is certainly "committed to social consciousness and multicultural diversity."

Was It Good for You?

Liebman's former husband, professor Sheldon Liebman, chairman of the humanities department of Wright College in Chicago who was at Woodstock with Gale, said he believes that "it's always worthwhile to be part of something for the good of society."

Reflecting on the hippie atmosphere at Woodstock, the professor described the event as having the theme that "things are changing."

Many were very committed to political change, he added.

Buchwald remembered that the leadership of the hippie and similar movements always had a disproportionate number of Jews.

Buchwald and Gale Liebman, both Jewish, stressed that the event was peaceful, though the 1960s were anything but.

But did it mean change was healthful for the nation?

Mort Fleischner, a retired TV-news producer at ABC-TV in New York, recalled that those years "seemed like one rebellion after another," with "kids smoking pot, half-naked, rock groups. Many did not know what they wanted; they were all caught up with the culture of their time."

Yehuda Nir, a New York psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Medical Center, noted that many of his patients who joined in the trauma of the '60s "simply don't like to talk about it."

Sheldon Liebman agreed that those who were not involved in hippie activities and were "very serious" about political activities might not be as reticent to discuss those days.

Paul Jay Fink, professor of psychiatry at Temple University Medical School, whose office is in Bala Cynwyd, said that former hippies "have good memories" of those days.

"It was an exciting time for young people," he said. "Everyone I know who was at Woodstock had a wonderful experience."

And the 40th anniversary may bring another concert, although everything is still in the formative stages. Indeed, a new Web site has been put together dealing with all things Woodstock: Woodstockstory.com.

Professor Liebman offered this: "Woodstock was an icon, a major concert ... with first-rate musical artists. It was a wonderful time to be alive ... and now to be able to say, 'I was there.' "

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