The Aquarian Minyan at the Rainbow Gathering

— Reuven Goldfarb, 13 Adar, 5763/March 16, 2003

            On June 27, 1984, a small contingent of Aquarian Minyan people set off for the 13th annual Rainbow Gathering, held this year in the Modoc National Forest in the Warner Range of remote Northeastern California.  Jeff Celnik, Jeff Oboler, and Noah Miller were the pioneers and scouts for a Jewish camp, set up among the many diverse tribes, groups, and individuals attending this week-long happening in the wilderness.

            It was Jeff Celnik, who has attended four such gatherings, held in a different state each year (last year in Michigan), who motivated extensive Minyan involvement this year.  Perhaps his greatest coup was inducing Jeff Oboler to come out early from New York for the Gathering (he was already planning to be on the West Coast for the Joys of Jewishing Summer Encampment).  Mr. Oboler, Director of the Martin Steinberg Center for the Arts, added a spiritual dimension to our group endeavors that helped maintain focus and calm as well as evoking more exalted states during the ceremonies, rituals, and personal encounters that took place during the week.

            With them they brought 3000 copies of The New Jewish Times, subtitled, "A Journal of Planetary Renewal," to distribute for free.  This twenty page journal, printed on green paper with a rainbow sticker on the cover, contains stories, teachings, poetry, and graphics celebrating our Jewish tradition, with emphasis on messianic consciousness.  It was printed with financial assistance from the American Jewish Congress and co-edited by Jeff, Jeff, and Chava Miller.  Extra copies are still available for those who might wish to own one.

            After encountering obstacles at the base camp, which prevented the conveying of them and their supplies up the 2-3 mile road, Jeff O. forced the issue by identifying himself as a rabbi and firmly requesting permission to take their station wagon up to the top, promising to return it promptly.  Crowds of people had been swarming aboard the few regular shuttle buses, trucks, and vans, which made it impossible for our advance guard to travel up with their load.  Permission was granted at the base camp and at checkpoints along the way, where they were repeatedly challenged.

            [By the way, Jeff (Yosef ben Shlomo HaKohen) wants me to note that he regrets having falsely represented himself as a rabbi in order to gain some advantage for our group.  He has since done t’shuvah for it and would not repeat the action today, although he understands why he did it at the time.  We, of course, recognized his rabbinic function in our group and therefore did not fault him then and do not fault him now for the practical and spiritual leadership he displayed.  Whether he had been officially ordained or not, he was then and is now a profound teacher of Yahidut.  He is the founder of Hazon — Our Universal Vision:
(This clarification was first entered on 5 Sivan, 5767 / May 21, 2007) — RG]

            In the dark, they found a campsite.  A violent windstorm interrupted their sleep.  In the morning they realized what a beautiful place they had chosen.  A melting snow bank had created a large round pond, suitable for wading and mikveh.  A grove of pine and fir trees provided shelter from the sun and fallen wood for fires.  Broad meadows extended on either side of the grove.  In the following few days, many other people found the general area a good place to camp.

            Other people drove up on Friday to join the encampment for the first Shabbos:  Don Rothenberg, Moshe Shachar, Dov Ben Chayyim, and Les Adler.  Even at that early stage, before the official opening of the Gathering on Sunday, some 40-50 people showed up for the Friday evening Shabbos celebration.  Over the next few days Ruti Gubkin, Sue Henken, Aaron Greenberg, Len Fellman, Arnon R., Shimshon Eisenberg and Laura Green showed up.  On the 4th, David Drexler arrived, straight from Yerushalayim, with news of a Rainbow Gathering to be held in the Holy City in the Spring of 1985.  Shirley Schapper, from Santa Monica, came in on Thursday.

            Numerous other visitors arrived, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to stay or just spend some time:  Pinchas from Twin Oaks, Bhakti (Dale) from Big Sur, Gelstrom von Hellstrom from Texas, Barbara Berman, a Cantor from Maryland, Dan Coburn, and Rosalind Glazer from Arcata, Boston, and Israel.  Pinchas played guitar and sang folk songs around the fire, and Bhakti just set up her mat and bag in the center of the camp and gradually revealed herself as a healer and counselor.

            Some high points:  the 4th of July meditation for world peace.  Hundreds of participants walked in single file (so as not to disturb the vegetation) to a rocky, sloping hillside, found places, and sat in silence for an hour.  The view, of twin alkaline lakes shimmering in the broiling sun's heat, was like viewing the Dead Sea and Jordan from Masada.  Before the meditation ended, a few good Samaritans circulated among the sitters with handfuls of snow, offering it to those who wished to cool their brows.  At the end of an hour, the conch shell was blown, an AUM began, and people slowly arose to join hands and form a giant circle in the vast alpine meadow.

            A few people had baked loaves of flat, found, whole wheat pita-style bread and distributed it to everyone.  Several spontaneous blessings were shouted out and responded to with additional blessings or amens.  Spiritual songs were chanted, people hugged and fed each other, and the few who were overcome by the heat were lovingly cradled and revived.

            After several minutes of greetings and mutual acknowledgements, the circle was bisected by a column of children from Kiddie Village, with their adult escorts, bearing banners and signs, singing over and over, "Rainbow children, we are free!"

            The pageant was scheduled for the afternoon of July 5th, at which time each tribe or organized group could offer, in music, song, dance, or spectacle, some element to the overall tapestry of artistic and cultural contributions.

            In the morning, thunder rolled and lightning flashed across the encampment, and drops of rain spattered the tents, tepees, and sleeping bags.  Everyone was alarmed that a downpour appeared imminent and set to work securing their campsites.  But the rain never came.  Instead, the sun came out in periodic bursts and the pageant went on as scheduled.

            Among the offerings were the Rainbow Dancers, led by Fantuzzi, who also served as Master of Ceremonies for the occasion, and the Rasta Family.  The Jewish Tribe’s contribution was to do "The Wedding in the Garden," conceived and orchestrated by Jeff Oboler.  It was to be a paradigmatic joining in marriage of HaKodesh Boruch Hu (The Holy One of Being) and Planet Earth, a re-enactment of the original wedding in Gan Eden, with Reuven and Yehudit standing in for the principals.  The symbolic re-enactment was to be a remarriage for them with their two flesh and blood children joining them under the Chuppah.  Dov Ben Chayyim offered to lead Israeli folk dancing after the ceremony.

            "The Wedding in the Garden" was on the list held by the M.C., but when the Rasta Family's music was announced as "the last but not least," a mood of discouragement swept our party.  Had we been forgotten, overlooked, or swept aside for some petty reason? Maybe the time was not right and we should forego our ambitious but not really feasible undertaking.  Only Jeff Oboler kept his cool.  He did not feel we had yet exhausted our efforts to bring this off.  Perhaps it was only a test of our desire and determination.

            An intermediary in an Indian loincloth (who once had studied in a Far Rockaway yeshiva), sensing our mood of disappointment and frustration, though mingled with embers of hope, went up to the M.C. and conferred with him and the Rasta Family players.  Could we have a few minutes to make our offering? Apologies were extended, the way was cleared, and we stepped into the circle.  Jeff called everyone's attention with a desperate, exuberant SH'MA—YIS-RA-EL — and all who knew it joined in — ADONAI—ELOHAYNU—ADONAI—ECHOD!

            A brief, unifying introduction was delivered, and the wedding took place, with three b'rachot, sips of wine, and an exchange of vows.  People were sighing and crying.  With Mazal Tov! mad dancing broke out.  A transformation in consciousness had taken place.  A tikkun (fixing) was made in the rainbow consciousness.  Many Jews came forward to speak to us, and many non-Jews expressed appreciation for our spiritual energy and our presence.

            True to form, on the way to their yichud, Yehudit and Reuven were discussing Jewish identity and community life with an inquiring woman and her child.  Later that afternoon, a rainbow was seen, arching over the mountains and appearing to settle in the Jewish camp.  Over a hundred people came to Shabbat, and a sizable number showed up for the reading of the portion of the week, Balak, by the side of the snow-melt pond.

            The daily council, held in the center of the main meadow, extended for hours each day.  All kinds of questions were brought up at this forum — policy for the Gathering, political, social, and spiritual questions, child-care and ecology, relations with the local police and with the Pit River and Modoc Indians, to whom this land is sacred, food and water supplies, and emergencies.  It was a lesson in consensus decision-making that we have since applied in our business meetings.  One person at a time speaks, holding a feather, conch shell, or crystal.  Whoever holds the sacred object has the attention and respect of everyone (ideally).  A facilitator keeps the process moving.  It was remarkable how well this worked for such a large and shifting population.  In retrospect, nothing else could have worked so well.

            The sheer variety of participants made it impossible to experience it all in just a week (or even ten days).  Awe and wonder were the predominant emotions.  Many of the camps had open kitchens, serving meals to whomever dropped by.  An evening meal was served daily at the council circle.  A M*A*S*H Tent took care of medical emergencies.  Kiddie Village was available for child-care (though it was unfortunately situated at a busy crossroads) and fed children and their adult escorts, and the Sunshine Bakery provided bread — and Challah dough for the Shabbat, which Shirley baked in their ovens.  Bodywork was offered at the Yurts and Easter religious groups held services, prayed, sang, and performed pujas daily, which were open to all.  David Pam (Fire) revealed himself as an Agni Siddha to the astonished Shivaites.

Everything in the text is just about the way I described it in 1984 (with one important modification), when, at Jeff O.'s request, I wrote this overview for the AJC.  I believe his intention was to demonstrate that the money the organization had disbursed had been well-spent, but I knew at the time that the piece I would write would not, could not, be a classic report to the funding sponsor.  Still, in retrospect, 19 years later, it might be said to have come very close to appealing to the right kind of funder's instincts, even without a demonstrable conclusion.

Reuven Goldfarb, 13 Adar, 5763/March 16, 2003 [revisions completed on 12 Menachem-Av, 5767 / July 27, 2007]

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