In the spring of 1969 Moishe Rosen, a speaker for the American Board of Mission to the Jews, entertained his audience at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at Columbia University with a few sarcastic remarks on the hippies who were flooding New York. He recycled the well-worn joke, “A hippie dresses like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.” One Jewish social worker, Bob Berk, took offense.
Berk questioned Moishe whether he actually had ever smelled a hippie. Moishe barked his satisfaction that he had never even gotten close enough to smell one. Rosen’s reaction was a typical one at the time; older generations of Jews were challenged by the contradiction between their professed love of all humans and their distaste for the counter-culture of their kids.
Berk pointed out to Rosen that the hippies were spiritually questing and thus the very people Rosen should be talking to. Out of this confrontation between Berk and Rosen opened a whole new chapter of Messianic Jewish history in the city.
New York City Jewish teenagers rebelled in the 1960s and 1970s against their parents’ religion empty of content, middle class conformism, and earnest, prissy liberalism. The teens wanted to be radical Jews like the Lower East Side revolutionaries, strong Jews like those in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and religiously self-fulfilled. They resonated with Paul Goodman’s screed against “growing up absurd.”
Jewish parents were often offended by their children’s rejection. The parents felt that they had survived the Holocaust, sacrificed for their children and joined the American dream. Though many parents weren’t particularly religious, they had sent their children to synagogue to learn a Jewish heritage, good morals and respect for their elders. But their kids went off the upward mobile track from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn with a last stop in the golden havens of Long Island. Instead, many NYC Jewish teenagers went in the opposite direction toward the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village after hearing what Bob Dylan called something “blowin’ in the wind.” Then, they discovered California as a place to re-start Jewish identity. By the mid-1960s Jewish kids were turning to drugs and tuning into alternative visions of life and dropping out of their parents’ world.
After his chastening by Berk, Rosen began spending time with hippies in Greenwich Village. As he started to understand them, he reflected on how they were like his hero Leopold Cohen who in the 1890s overcame the prejudices of elitist assimilated German-American Jews against the poor Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe shetls. In a half-penitent gesture he wrote a funny tract picturing a big boxy man (at that time Rosen was a 327 pound, 37-year old crew-cut conservative) with the caption “A Message from a Square.” He admitted that the hippy style was more like Jesus than his square style. He wrote, “Can you just imagine Moses or Elijah with a crew cut?” Soon, Moishe recalled, “There were wall-to-wall hippies in my office.” In the late 1960s Moishe was taken with a phrase that appeared in an ad in the Village Voice “Jews for Jesus.”
Indeed, most of the radical, communitarian and religious movements of the 1960s had a heavy Jewish component. The first president and “a substantial portion” of the leadership of the radical political organization Students for a Democratic Society were Jewish. Abbie Hoffman led the anarchist Yippies; and many of the new age religions were led by young Jews who had fled places like Kew Gardens, the Grand Concourse or the Upper West Side. Kew Gardens’ Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel chillingly sang of the sounds of silent graves while experimenting with gospel sounds of hope in “Bridge over troubled waters.” By one estimate over 20% of the Flower Power counter-culturals in San Francisco were Jews. The new religious movements, particularly Eastern religions, had five times more Jews in them than did the general population.
In the 1960s and 1970s spiritual seekers did what massive numbers of New Yorkers fed up with bad government and negative social trends were doing—they left the city. Worship centers declined, closed or moved to the suburbs. In the Bronx all but a few synagogues out of the hundreds that had been founded there closed. In Harlem some pastors held fort by keeping a shotgun under their pulpit. Later, the spiritual renewal of the city would strongly benefit from the conversion or renewal of transplanted New Yorkers who would come back and try again.
See the Chronological sidebar: Searching for the Messiah in New York City
New York Jews, to California!
Rosen had a “literal vision” to move to San Francisco, California where he leaped into the wave of New York Jewish hippies in July 1970. He started street preaching in the city and other gathering places of Jewish hippies.
Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco had become so jammed with seekers of bliss that many of the Hippies, motorcycle gangs, rock bands and the profoundly stoned drifted over the Golden Gate Bridge to the fishing village of Sausalito in Marin County. A veritable city of cheap houseboats laid anchor. Sausalito also had the important advantage of a laid back approach to drug taking and sexuality. The madam of the biggest bordello in town became mayor in the mid-1970s.
In the summer of 1970 off the Sausalito docks, four New York Jews and one African American set up a floating drug bazaar. Out of that group came a big part of the core leadership of Jews for Jesus. Mitch Glaser came from Kew Gardens Hills, Baruch and Efraim ( called “Efi” or “Freddy” or “Freddie”) Goldstein from the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Jhan Moskowitz from Highbridge, Bronx, and the African American Sandy from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.
The birthing of Jesus the New York Jew
Mitch and Freddy met up during their freshmen year at college in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Mitch had developed a small, profitable drug dealing business in which he enlisted Freddy as a helper. Mitch recalls that in his early college years, “I majored in unregistered pharmacy.” Big dollars, for college students, started to burn in the their pockets.
They quickly dropped out of college and in the Spring of 1970 headed to the happening place of Haight Asbury where Freddy’s brother Baruch awaited them. Baruch had gone off to the Vietnam War, had his fingers shot off and was living on his $500 per month disability pension. Another Bronx Jew, Jhan Moskowitz, was helping Baruch build a houseboat north of San Francisco in Sausalito harbor off Gate 5. They were on a quasi-spiritual journey and in the spirit of the general mood of the times thought everyone was going to have a revelation while having fun. Their friend Joan Solan had sent them off from New York City with the request, “Let me know if you find the answers to life.” Freddy and Mitch, however, were more interested in the fun. They all were interested in drugs and rebellion.
The drug habit came out of rebellion and disillusionment with growing up Jewish. Mitch recalls, “I can’t remember when I wasn’t in rebellion.” Mitch’s parents sent him to Hebrew school, but he wondered why they rarely went to services themselves. He was Bar Mitzvahed at Young Israel of Kew Harden Hills, but admits he was just going through the motions. “I cannot say that I was especially religious and probably was uncertain about the existence of God.” Instead, he was delighted that he could buy the marijuana that the ultra-Orthodox gays were peddling at summer camp. About fourteen or fifteen years of age, Mitch developed an unlikely new eagerness for Jewish summer camp.
The next summer he couldn’t hardly wait to jump in the car to go see what new goodies his Orthodox friends had to offer. In fact they had a new wonder drug, LSD. Mitch became a devoted fan and developed a strong attachment to the drug and its psychedelic cousin mescaline. The popular notion was that the drugs were fast tracks to an explosive transcendence from a boring bourgeoisie life. Philosopher Aldous Huxley proclaimed that mescaline could open the doors to infinite perception. Mitch certainly did his best to make sure that he didn’t miss any of the “transcendence.” “By age 19, I had taken LSD and mescaline over 500 times.” Mitch saw visions, lights and girls but afterward wondered if he was losing his mind, a worry that recurred.
As a teenager, Jahn also started taking drugs introduced to him by a high school buddy at DeWitt Clinton High School, where he also became friends with Baruch Goldstein. His most exciting excursions became trips to Greenwich Village to get rolling papers. He wanted to escape a depressed household.
Jhan (whose original name was Alan) came out of a family with a raging father and a quiescent mother. “My father had a horrendous temper. That was the bad side to being a Holocaust survivor. He would unleash an intense fury, a flood of rage, when he was angry.” Jahn’s father Maz came in some unknown way to New York City in 1947, worked as a cutter in the Manhattan garment district and then started a custom tailoring business in the Bronx.
After Jhan was born in 1948, the Moskowitzs moved to Highbridge area of the Bronx. They mainly attended Conservative synagogues, sometimes Orthodox ones, but were not particularly religious. Jhan attended Hebrew school run by a Jewish socialist group. The family’s religious life was a bric-a-brac of Jewish customs and New World discoveries. They kept kosher at home but enjoyed Sunday Chinese meals out.
Jhan’s father’s faith was more parabolic than religious. His son’s best memories are about his father’s stories that were funny parables with a moral point. One day upstairs in his tailoring shop the elder Moskowitz told Jhan of the universal unity of mankind. The story was prompted by a conflict with neighbors over Jhan’s play with the daughter of their African American super. Jhan recalled the day when “people came to my father and warned him, ‘Your son is playing with that little nigger girl.’” Angry, his father threw the neighbors out with the words, “This is America and my son can play with whom he wants.”
As Jhan got older, his interest drifted toward counter-cultural life-styles. He also looked for some way to combine them with his Jewish identity. One way that Jhan tried was a youthful zealotry for politics during his freshman year at Long Island University in Brooklyn. Then, around 1967 it started to make sense to him that he should find a home on an Israeli kibbutz. He thought Israel offered an ideal solution to his current interests of politics, drugs and women, a sort of politico-cultural tourist package.
“I really wanted to go to Israel to smoke hashish and meet Danish women on the beach,” he recalled. But the 1967 War broke out during his flight to Israel, and his political interest fired white hot. He volunteered to fight. However, the war ended so quickly that Jhan’s volunteering ended up as a tour picking peaches on a kibbutz. With every plucked peach Jhan’s political ardor cooled and his desire for drugs and women rose to the point that the kibbutz kicked him out.
“It was gabbily gobbily,” Jhan said, recalling craziness of his life. “As troops were marching around Jerusalem, I was trying to score hashish from Arab dealers.” He discerned that the kibbutz was more upset with his intercourse with Arabs than poor peach picking or his hash purchases. He was disillusioned with the racism of Israelis. He wondered then where he would find a touchstone for his own life. Although he admiringly recalled his father’s fairness to other races in the Bronx, there was so much other stuff about his father that he didn’t like. Jhan mused that maybe he should have gone West rather than East; might his generation’s resolution be found in the spiritual awakenings in California? As he turned toward spiritual ruminations, he had a poignant experience at the Wailing Wall while on one of his drug buying ventures in the Old City where the Arabs lived.
“I passed by the Wailing Wall and all of sudden it hit me. I am a child of survivors, standing at this ancient wall in Jerusalem. Can all this be coincidence?” Jhan cried as he thought about his identity as a wandering Jew. He wondered, “Could there be a God and could he have something to do with Jewish survival?” The war had a far-reaching impact on New York Jews like Jhan.
The decisive Israeli victory moved many of New York Jews toward an ethnically-focused spiritual and political search. A few noticed that evangelicals Christians were incorporating a belief that modern Israel was a sign that God had a special care and role for the Jews. In 1971 Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth gripped the imaginations of many young New York City Jews. Young Jewish women at Barnard College asked their Christian friends, “Is this true? Is the Messiah coming back?”
In Israel Jhan’s spiritual inclination led him to Holocaust victims whose existence pushed him to search for the meaning of suffering. It also heightened a low level paranoia that he had inherited from his parents’ history as Holocaust victims. Uneasy and distraught, the young teenager was startled when one day a policeman showed up at the kibbutz asking for him. He wondered if someone in the kibbutz had dimed him out to the police. He stood up shocked and scared.
Then, shock turned to stupidfication. The policeman came up and started hugging and kissing him.
“Jhan, Jahn, I am Kozak. My sister was your father’s wife before the Nazis hung her,” the policeman explained. Jhan was stunned while the man cried. His father had another wife? She was hung?
He learned that Kozak and his father had an intense history together. The Nazis had sent them to the same work camp which both had miraculously survived. From the policeman he found out many other things about his father.
The revelations were like creating a backflop on top of a backflip in Jhan’s mind. In fact Jhan had never even known his own birth-mother who had died when he was about six months old. He lived in an orphanage until his father married Lilly, a refugee from a Rumanian work camp. This woman became his actual mother in Jhan’s eyes. Yet, Jhan lived with an awareness that his father had taken some detours in the shadows of the past, that there were some indecipherable hints of brushes with death and lostness. Now, one more shadow dropped down as a darker backdrop to the greys of his childhood memories.
The revelations threw him into an immense awareness of his bit role in the ruins of the Holocaust. He had always been affected by the Holocaust and stories about how the local priest would come out of the church with a big cross and a group of kids to throw rocks while calling his parents Christ killers. As a boy, he had asked his Dad what was the number on his arm, and his mother was a survivor of the Nazi work camps. Jhan said, “I lived with a sense that the Holocaust could happen again. There was always an ‘us and them’ mentality. I’d visit someone’s apartment or house and immediately I’d look under the stairs and think that would be a good place to hide.” But the knowledge about the execution of his father’s first wife made him feel like there was no place to hide. The revelations created an ominous sense of hidden dangers.
Jhan needed to find out more and started visiting Kozak. Jahn’s father and Kozak both lived in a small town outside of Lodz, Poland when the Nazis invaded in 1939. The son learned from a neighbor of Kozak that his father was considered heroic. The neighbor believed Jhan’s father had saved his life. The man told Jhan, “Your father was a tailor so in exchange for dressing up the Nazis he got things like potatoes from the camp chef.” Jhan’s father then had distributed some of the food to others, saving Kozak’s neighbor from starvation. Jhan hadn’t known much about the prison life of his father. The realization grew that he could live in the light of his father’s heroic side, rather in the darkness of the rages. Jhan started to believe that maybe suffering had a meaning.
“There is a point at which you come to believe that you are allowed to go through the consequences of life, because there is a greater good that is going to happen,” he said.
Jhan now sensed that the heroism he sought might lay closer to home than in Israel. His father’s heroism brought his eyes back to America and the heroic possibilities for Jews in America, their land of refuge.
Meanwhile, he was following the news that momentous discoveries about life were happening in California. So, Jhan pivoted back to America and went West. After dropping some acid at Berkeley for the first time, Jhan went back and forth to California every summer in between studying at Long Island University. He tried out various spiritualities. In May 1970 his I Ching throw said, “Go West.”
Jhan joined Baruch and a group of New York Jews who were part of the flock of Hippies who alighted on floating objects of every description in Sausalito’s harbor off Gate 5. A social center for the happy armada was the houseboat Becky Thatcher. There, the Jefferson Airplane wrote their version of the song “Get Together,” which became an anthem for the boat residents with its refrain, “Come on People now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now. Some will come, some will go, but we will surely pass.”
Although not as famous as Haight Asbury or Berkeley, Gate 5 became a cheaper and more private haven for artists and certain types of entrepreneurs. Every houseboat and walkway had interesting denizens. Bob Dylan penned songs on Shel Silverstein’s boat, John Lennon and Yoko Ono dressed up as trees on the docks, where Geraldine Page and Rip Torn did some wild dancing with the prostitute and founder of the San Francisco hooker’s union C.O.Y.O.T.E.
The structures ranged from crude boxes floating on Styrofoam “to war surplus lifeboats and landing craft, from salvaged Chinese junks to opulent palaces on concrete barges,” one resident observed. In the early summer of 1970 the New Yorkers finished building their houseboat. Glaser laughs now and says that their fancy description, “houseboat,” was good for the chicks, but lost credibility after they boarded. “It was really a shack on orange barrels with one big common room lit by stolen electricity.” They were able to score a woodstove from a local craftsman whose business was booming. In the evenings the wood and marijuana smoke merged into a fog hovering over the harbor.
Into the smoky, humid atmosphere floated the scents of every conceivable type of drug: pot, hash, acid (LSD), psilocybin, heroin, opium, cocaine, speed, PCP, MDA, mescaline, booze and various exotic mixes. One popular mix was Nescafe mixed with synthetic mescaline which provided the snorter with a feeling of white heat on one’s skin. Joe Tate, a local drug dealer, described the experience as “Wowie Zowie Zorcho Zingbob!” Rip Torn was so immersed into the culture that he was nicknamed “Rip Snort.”
For those who had money for a weekend brunch, they could pick up a psychedelic treat at the Trident Restaurant which was particularly known for its drug-spiked Boozzy Smoothy. For those without cash they could steal and consume generous portions of Nyquil from the local pharmacy. No one seemed to get arrested.
Each member of the New York group had a drug of choice: Baruch played with heroin while Sandy seriously used it; Mitch smoked pot, dropped acid and mescaline; Freddy and Jhan were into serious acid highs. With Baruch and Sandy making the deals with heavy hitter dealers, the gang kept itself high and in cash by selling drugs. Mitch recalls that for the first time he was supporting himself in a relevant hippie style, though the good news to home omitted some of the facts. “I was making good money selling drugs, mostly marijuana but also psychedelic tabs, hashish and opium,” he recalls.
The whole neighborhood of barges, boats, scows and rafts puffed up drugs along with their wood smoke. It was a turned-on navy. They named their floating residences after their favorite drugs: Magic Mushroom; Hash; Speed!; Snort; and so forth.
However, the New Yorkers were learning that drugs, particularly at the levels and combinations that they were using, had unpredictable bad effects. Mitch recalls, “The truth is that I hated it. It made me lose control of my mind. But I couldn’t stop because I was in a certain life-style groove.” At times they thought that they were floating in the room, over the water, then drowning. At a neighbor’s party the revelers crawled like reptiles and scurried like rodents. One guy almost lost his penis to a stoked out girl who bit on it like a rat. People died or went bonkers.
Sandy was also taking more and more heroin, which worried everyone. Finally, in a devastating loss he died of an overdose in the summer of 1970. The New York gang felt torn asunder.
They started to realize that if the drugs could give pleasure, they could also take it away. Dealing drugs positively could take away one’s money and life as quick as falling off one of the boats stoned.
Other acid casualties appeared with increasing frequency among friends from New York City. One deranged New Yorker presided over one of the tallest residences on Gate 5. Allegedly after ingesting a chocolate milkshake with eighty LSD hits, he decreed himself the Sun King and the second coming of Christ.
On sunny days he paraded naked, grinning and shouting, “HAPPY! I! The SUN KING and I! HAPPY! OH GOD, I HAPPY!,” according to residents’ recollections. Hippie mystic-shaman Michael Woodstock and his wife Penny believed that they became supernatural beings after using acid, according to their followers. Despite the warning signs, the attraction of a drug-infused life was hard to resist. People would beg, borrow or steal to stay in it.
The New York gang was habitually coming up short of money because they ingested a lot of their own product. For about two days a week they would depend on living off Baruch’s disability money from the government. For the rest of the week they were sometimes reduced to scavenging on the docks. Petty drug dealing wasn’t providing enough income flow.
Baruch hatched the idea that they could score a big drug deal, become big time dealers and buy a big boat. Mitch saw this as upward mobility: a step up the professional ladder from two-bit drug dealer. Freddy went along with the others.
The New Yorkers made a connection with the notorious Joe Tate, a drug & drug paraphernalia dealer on the Becky Thatcher houseboat with a reputation for violence and unsavory dealings. On his boat he had a gun-toting fact-totem named Rick who slept with his 44 magnum and his girlfriend. Stories of his toughness were popular lore among the houseboat residents.
One time, suffering 5 non-lethal bullet wounds shot from the boat doorway into his bed, Rick, Tate’s sidekick, placed three slugs directly in the bull’s eye of the chest of his attacker.
It seemed like a safe bet to make a deal with Tate for a big delivery of fifty pounds of choice products from Mexico. The incipient NYC gang were romanced with the thrill of moving into the big time with the backing of Tate.
The New Yorkers imagined that they would be on their way to being major players in the drug trade. The gang were entranced by the possibility of moving from their leaky scow to one of the high perches like the one the Sun King occupied (though without the megalomaniac breakdown). Baruch, who was a rough ex-Vietnam veteran, felt that going into violent situations was easy. However, there were undercurrents of uncertainty about the move. Mitch was an experienced drug dealer but his low-level dealing had avoided situations where bullets could fly.
Mitch and Freddy found some clients in the local Marin City ghetto, an unchanging hell hole that they should have avoided (much later Tupac Shakur developed his rap about “the thug life” in the same ghetto). They particularly shouldn’t have set up the deal to culminate in an exchange of product and money on their own houseboat. However, they ran back to eagerly to tell Baruch and Jhan that they everything was set for a buy and a quick step to easy street.
That night, Mitch and Jhan eagerly rowed out from the houseboat to pick up the Marin City dealer. They waited with their skiff to transport their new client to their houseboat party which would celebrate the deal. Jhan was already drunk from toasts to the future profits. They saw the dealer thread his way down the narrow, jury-rigged boardwalk from boat to boat until he arrived at the end where their boat was waiting.
It was a beautiful, clear night about 8 or 9 o’clock, though moonless and quite dark; people were partying, wood stoves belching and the sweet odor of marijuana filled the air. Carrying a duffle bag, the African American dealer jumped into the boat with a smile. But not much was said, though there were some storm signals, particularly the predatory gleam in the dealer’s smile.
Jhan started to sober up and shook his head to catch Mitch’s attention. He darted his eyes to the gun in the man’s waistband. Mitch kept on rowing as if nothing was unusual, though both men’s heartbeat started to hammer. “We just continued rowing as if we were feeling normal,” Mitch recalls. But Jhan and Mitch started to calculate to themselves how much this type of dealing would eventually cost them.
On board the houseboat the dealer dropped the bag and asked to see the product. Baruch brought out a sample of the $10,000 stash. The dealer flared some bills. Baruch brought out more of the stash, grinned wickedly and said, “We are going to make a lot of people happy tonight!”
Then, a thud sounded through the boat. Seven or eight—some say a dozen--African Americans bearing pistols and shotguns jumped from two boats, or four! Mitch’s eyes were focused on the massive black sawed off shotgun that was pointed at him. The invaders shouted for Mitch’s group to lay on the floor where they were tied up.
Mitch jerked his eyes off the guns because now he was more worried about even bigger dangers: Baruch and the evil looking, long black haired, dark brown eyed drug king Tate. “I was more afraid that Baruch would start shooting. He was a Vietnam veteran, nutty and not at all afraid of guns. I was even more afraid of the guy from the Becky Hatcher than any of the guys holding guns on me.” They were losing Tate’s products with no money to show for it.
Baruch shouted, “You got the gun! You got the power! Just don’t shoot my dog!” The New Yorkers had a black Weimar with the cartoon name Ignatz who was now whimpering under the furniture.
They rolled the captives’ up into the boat’s old Persian rug and demanded, “Where is the rest of the stuff!” Baruch screamed that all the products were on the table, and “Don’t shoot my dog!” Jhan thought, “Thank God, I only have a cat. Nobody shoots cats.”
One of the guys put a sawed off shotgun on the back of Mitch’s neck, warning, “For the last time where is the rest of the stuff?” Mitch croaked out his lie that there were no more stuff as he imagined their supplier’s vicious face. “I was just eighteen and thought, ‘How stupid have I been to throw my life away!’” Mitch lapsed into a realization of his hopelessness.
“I was scared, hopeless and had no one to pray to.”
Mitch and the others continued to whine that there were no more products or money. One raider warned his buddies not to shoot anyone, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Let’s just burn it down!” Burned bodies don’t tell tales. Jhan was wandering if he was so high that he was imagining it all, and worrying, “Where is my cat?”
Mitch hoped they would shoot him instead. “I didn’t want to go that way. I was numb hoping it would go quickly.”
Then, after emptying the captives’ pockets of money, the raiders just left. The noise of their leaving receded. Waves slapped on houseboat’s hull. Some laughter could be heard drifting over from other boats. The dog had wet the floor; the cat was gone. The New York gang wannabees touched themselves to see if they were intact.
The robbery was like a hard shove down the road accompanied by death threats what would happen if they tried to come back; each member of the New York gang had to decide where he was going next. Their first steps were erratic, drug-addled, fear-driven, dazed. Dangers weighed down on them like sink anchors.
Baruch cycled pretty quickly to thoughts of survival: he had to get the product back or Rick was going to pay them a visit. He went out to convince their neighbor that they could snatch the stuff back. Tate agreed and organized a posse.
Baruch, their supplier Tate, and the armed posse raided the African Americans in Marin City and got the product back. But Baruch wondered how long he could live in this type of life. Baruch saw his golden drug dealing dream go down the tubes. At best Tate would never trust them again. Baruch prowled around to find solace in sex.
Mitch resolved to high heaven to “stop selling except to people I knew really well.”
Jhan wasn’t as emotionally affected, but he was “pissed at Freddy and Mitch” for leading trouble to their boat. Anger drove him forward through the fears.
At about that time, Joan, their friend from New York who was looking for the meaning for life, dropped by. She was a comforting soul, but Baruch brushed aside her sympathy with an aggressive sexual move. “Baruch became just an animal,” Jhan said. Joan angrily left the boat with curses and a parting shout, “Goldstein is a chauvinist pig!” She headed up to the hippie encampments in the woods along the Mendocino River. She recalls, “I was on a conscious search for truth, and it certainly wasn’t back at the houseboat.”
After a psychedelic visit at the hippie camps, Joan headed up to a concert in Oregon. Hoping to hitch a ride, she approached a VW van sitting alongside the road. But the driver Ken said the van was stuck because it wouldn’t start. Finally, he got it started with a shout of “Praise the Lord!”
After being dropped off the van, she got picked up and jailed for illegally hitching a ride on a highway. In jail she started reading the New Testament and became engrossed. Ken then helped her to get out of jail and deposited at a Mike and Ann Ward’s “ranch,” a Christian haven for hippies. Joan in her purple sweat pants and orange top fashioned out of an apron told herself, “Be careful, Joannie, there are a lot of weirdoes on the West Coast.”
In the meantime the Sausalito gang was picking up the pieces of their shattered business dreams.
A big surprise was how their exit out of the drug life onto a spiritual journey was actually catalyzed by the unlikeliest source: a grey bureaucrat. One morning in a surprising excess of zeal the local (and only) building inspector came putting out in his skiff demanding Jhan to show his officially approved building plan for the houseboat.
“Goldstein had tricked me to putting my name on the property deed,” Jhan recalled. “So, this guy was asking to ‘see a Jhan Moskowitz about this unplanned public nuisance.’” The putative boat owner told the inspector he was sadly mistaken about their houseboat.
Jhan facetiously claimed, “We don’t have no plans! This is art!” He reassured himself with the thought, “Who is this faceless bureaucrat to judge?”
However, unbeknownst to the houseboat inhabitants, the inspector’s zeal was inspired by federal and state agencies who were determined to shut down the drug pirates in the harbor, which meant everyone. Maybe, city hall had heard a rumor about the ruckus over the stolen drugs and put their houseboat on their list of first calls. No one really remembers.
At this point the federal interests coincided with the local city government which wasn’t getting any taxes from the boat community. The hippies off Gate 5 didn’t take the official seriously at first.
Some, like the owner of a Chinese junk, picked up anchor and sailed rings around the hapless inspector. However, the New Yorkers’ houseboat was distinctly immobile and an easy target.
The inspector wasn’t entertained by Jhan’s humor and demanded to meet the owner. “Oh,” the New Yorkers thought, “we’ve got him.” Jhan declared, “We don’t know who he is.”
With that the bureaucrat briskly pasted a notice on the houseboat, saying in a gotcha voice that he had probably been saving up for years, “Tell Jhan Moskowitz that it is condemned, and he must appear in court.” There was some threatening language on the sheet of paper, and none of the gang wanted to appear in court.
So, the gang was defeated, not by the gun-toting Rick, but by the pencil carrying bureaucrat. They fled back to Balboa Street in San Francisco.
Freaky Dude Ranch
There, they established a less romantic hideout: “Freaky Dude Ranch,” a three bedroom apartment with fifteen people—one-half Jewish, one-half psychotic, and one-half drug-induced psychotic. After several chaotic weeks, Mitch concluded that his life was going nowhere and decided to become “spiritual.”
Always religious, in the 1970s Freakville San Francisco went into an intensified religious mood. Marishna Yogi, Sri Chinmoy, Alan Watts and many others bearing Eastern divine light were filling the streets with chants, incense and vegetarian food. They certainly seemed healthier than the crew at Freaky Dude Ranch. The former pirates spread out to check out the new sacred landscape that was emerging.
Mitch scouted out every option. He recalls that he was “trying everything and visiting a lot of meditations.” There were many New York Jews experimenting in California with different religious visions. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was combining elements of Orthodox Judaism and a permissive hippie lifestyle at his House of Love and Prayer. Mitch had always been intrigued by his Jewish neighbors Alan Watts and Shel Silverstein at Gate 5 of the Sausalito docks who were into Zen Buddhism. “I got into Eastern religions. I was into Ram Dass for awhile.” He took up chanting and began to read the Bhagavata Gita.
Through a chance meeting while hitchhiking back up to Sausalito, Mitch found a job at an ecology camp near Pescadoro, which is about 50 miles south and a cultural world away from San Francisco. The natural setting far from the drug pipeline seemed to agree with Mitch’s search for a new life-style. “It was artichoke country, and they rented an American Baptist camp, Redwood Glenn,” he says. Without realizing it, the young ex-dealer had in effect signed himself up for a cold-turkey rehab camp. “It was good for me because I couldn’t easily do drugs,” Mitch later reflected. However, the summer passed to an undramatic end with no particular resolve toward a destination. Then, in November one of their old buddies from New York dropped by the Freaky Dude Ranch.
Joan was the fellow Jew seeking nirvana in California rather than the Bronx. But after Baruch’s offensive behavior, she had left the houseboat for Oregon with dismissive words, “You guys aren’t going anywhere.” Medicated against their current fears of the drug-dealing life, the gang had waved goodbye with a relaxed marijuana stroke. Joan ended up at “the ranch,” a hippie hangout in Coos Bay, Oregon.
Now, Joan showed up looking “different.” Mitch thought, “What happened to her in Oregon?” Jhan wondered if it was a new, safer drug. Baruch and Freddy just thought Joan had gone a little crazy-happy, crazy, but happy.
She told them that she had good news. Mitch thought, “Great, she has a new drug!”
Instead, Joan told them, “You guys are going to hell and Jesus loves you.”
It is hard to appreciate how Hippies of that time made titanic proclamations like this all the time. One of their neighbors in Sausalito had declared he was the Sun King, another that she was channeling Joan of Arc, another that he had seen the Cosmic All. So, the New Yorkers shouldn’t have been surprised, and some weren’t.
Freddy chanted, “Wow! Far Out!”
But the news was shocking to most of the gang.
“You are nuts! And you are a traitor!,” yelled Mitch. To him Jesus “was the collective lightening rod for 2000 years of Jewish-Christian history.” Touch Jesus and you would bring down calamity and wrath. Baruch went into an Israeli army mode. He said that he should get his guns and set those Oregonian hippies house on fire.
Joan remembers that Mitch was glad that she was happy, Baruch thought Jesus was cool, and Jhan praised Jesus as a revolutionary. However, except for Freddy, she admits that they were all also dismissive of her new faith.
Freddy interjected that he would like to visit the commune. The mild mannered Freddy at that moment was brooding on the end of the world and wondered if the commune was a safe haven. When he was acid tripping on Stinson Beach, a chick had come up to tell him, “The world is coming to an end.”
He brightly asked if Joan knew the latest cosmic wisdom which he had gathered. “Joan, the world is coming to an end!!” he exclaimed.
She smiled agreeably and replied, “Yes, let me show you why!” Joan’s explanation was persuasive enough, that Freddy then left with Joan to visit Oregon to check out the source of her cosmic knowledge.
Mitch mused that he had already caught wind of this new “Jesus thing” when two Jesus freaks picked him up when he was hitchhiking. Several Sausalito notables had also become Jesus people. Ted Wise, a burly sail maker and ex-drug user, got saved and opened a Christian commune in nearby Novato called the House of Acts. Other Christian communes were opening like Soul Inn, Berochah House and House of Pergamos. Across the nation, over 8000 Jesus people communes opened within a few years. Across the Bay in Berkeley, Jack Sparks launched the “Christian World Liberation Front,” about whom critics coined the name “Jesus Freaks.” The “All Saved Freak Band” started pumping out hits for Bay Area End Times parties.
Freddy and Joan made it up to Oregon to visit Michael and Ann’s “ranch,” which had some similarities to one of the most famous communes in America, Shiloh in Oregon. Sociologist Marion Goldman figured that 100,000 hippies passed through the Shiloh Houses. These communes were a cross between a St. Francis of Assisi monastery and the hippie lifestyle of Jesus as portrayed in the hit play “Godspell” that was touring the country with great success. They lived in common like the early Christians, abjured drugs and sex outside of marriage. They welcomed everyone, however. The evangelical magazine Christianity Today editor Carl H. Henry praised them for the “1st century boldness.” Most importantly, the communes were a place where freaks could enter into a new context and see alternate identities at work. Freddy flourished.
Down south, Mitch then got the stunning word that Freddy had “accepted the Lord.” He started planning a rescue of Joan and Freddy from “this stuff.” He had gone through every drug, religion and philosophy that Balboa Street had to offer, but this ‘Jesus thing’ was scary.” It felt too close to home, and he wrote Joan angling for an invitation to Oregon, which she gave him.
Meanwhile, Baruch and Jhan assured Mitch that they would get things back to normal on the business front while he was on his mission to Oregon. They would hatch a new drug dealing scheme, this time involving a trip to Jamaica to buy coke and a boat to sail around the world. Some of the Pier 5 inhabitants had already absconded to the big blue ocean never to be heard from again.
Mitch scrambled up to Oregon that summer. “I went to Oregon to save them,” Mitch said. Arriving at the "the ranch," Mitch had to row a boat out to it. As he rowed, he rehearsed his arguments. He jumped to shore ready to fight.
But he didn’t find the ranting and raving enemies whom he expected. Mike and Ann, who ran the ranch, welcomed him like a relative, cooked a meal for him and gave him a place to sleep. “There were not a lot of rules either. There was one: no drugs.” Mitch found it hard to remain angry and became a little curious. “My friends were obviously better off than before,” he observed. Mike told Mitch, “God wants me to love and feed people who come. It is the Holy Spirit at work.” Mitch also observed, “A lot of Jews are here.” Still, Mitch thought Mike was a little kooky riding around in a bus with God talking to him all the time.
Mitch compared the Wards' home to the tumultuous, dirty and argumentative scene at the Freaky Dude Ranch. “I had concluded that communal living was not good,” he observes. But he saw that this commune-like place in Oregon was peaceful, clean, and loving. Mike explained that their situation was a result of recognizing and turning one’s sin nature over to God. Mitch reflected that a lot of the problems that he and his friends were having were generated by unruly inner selves. Maybe, Mike had put his finger on the source of disasters in the crazy life back in the Bay area. Sin, “so, that’s what you call it,” the visitor reflected.
“I was amazed by their relation to God, and how they treated one another,” he recalls. “It was not like any commune that I had known.” He noticed that visiting Jews would come cursing the world and then, sometimes, quickly come down with smiles and a sense of destiny.
Mitch found that he was getting back in touch with his Jewish roots. The vehicle of his heritage journey was the Bible. Mike had showed him a Bible and pointed out, “See the thick part of the book. That’s yours. Read it.”
Mitch was curious. He was fascinated by the relevant way Mike and the others talked about the Bible. “They had a great Bible discussion,” Mitch says. “So I began reading the Bible—only the Old Testament, I would not touch the New!” At first he did it partly to learn how to refute the commune leaders and rescue Freddy and Joan. But gradually, Mitch fell in love.
“I discovered I loved reading the Bible. I was attracted to Abraham, David and Moses, all my national heroes.” The residual effects of Mitch’s Orthodoxy focused his hero worship on Biblical figures. He was not taken with Jews who were legendary radical leaders, or sports celebrities like Moe Greenberg or scientists like Albert Einstein. However, at this point his secular background inclined him to read the Biblical figures as national, Jewish heroes, not spiritual ones.
“But as I was reading, I realized that they were religious too. I began a new relation to Abraham and Moses.” Mitch also started comparing his heroes’ lives with those of the commune. “I saw that Abraham and Moses had a relation to God, and that their relation was like these Christians had. I started to wonder. Previously, I viewed my Christian friends as having taken one drug too many.”
Mitch was raised Orthodox, and he never questioned the Bible. It was a cultural heritage that he accepted but didn’t dwell upon. Moreover, he didn’t and wouldn’t read the New Testament. “I only read the thick part”—the Old Testament, he pointedly recalls. In the modern world he was seeking a new, more relevant identity. After dropping by San Francisco, Mitch returned to his work in Pescadero with many questions going through his mind.
Seeing Mitch’s new mindset, Baruch wondered what was happening to his brother Freddy who had stayed in Oregon. He and Jhan were uncertain on whether to be upset with Freddy’s conversion or to join the new cool high. Jhan recalls, “We all said, ‘Jesus is cool!’ Smoke, smoke. ‘Yeah, he is cool!’ Smoke, smoke.”
So Baruch and Jhan hatched a scheme whereby Baruch would see about this Jesus thing and determine if Freddy was dependable enough to start distributing their drug score from Jamaica when it happened. Jhan would go to Coconut Grove, Florida to wait for Baruch to join him before going onto Jamaica. Maybe, they would call their brand of coke, “Jesus,” after the new cool high making its way among fellow freaks. ‘Get a Jesus High, man!’,” Baruch chortled and counted up the money in his imagination.
Meanwhile, Mitch was dreaming about Oregon. “I could only think about God. What was going on? Is God real?” How could I get to Him?” Drawing upon Orthodox habits, little used in years, Mitch decided to go to a rabbi with his questions, but not the customary rabbi but God Himself. “If you are really there God, show me,” Mitch demanded. “Show me how to get to you.” Mitch interprets, “That was the Jewish Question. We depend on a Rabbi to tell us how.”
The questions on the surface of mind were about the relation of Eastern religions and Moses, or, maybe he should create his own designer religion. “Which one?,” he wondered. In the back of his mind there lay the unspoken question, “Is it Jesus?” He thought, “It was not like I have a telephone directory with God’s number on it.” Then, he found God’s number in a phone booth.
“That night I took one of the kids to make a call at the only phone at this camp. On the ledge where the phone book usually was, there was a Good News for Modern Man.” Mitch’s retrospective feeling that God was shining a light on the book doesn’t match his feelings at the time, which were, there’s an unattended book, steal it! He didn’t know it was a Bible until he got back to his room.
There he discovered it was a Bible with cross-listed passages between the Old Testament and New Testament. He devoured it—“I read it in three nights”—and discovered that Jesus was like Krishna come in the flesh. However, the Bible’s prophetic connections between Israel and Jesus seemed more solid and sensible to Mitch than the mythological feel of the Krishna story.
He was stunned by the “the poignancy and artistry of the portrait of the Messiah in the story of the suffering servant of the Lord which is recounted in Isaiah 53.” Cut off from his parents and any clear sense of morality or destiny, Mitch found an inner resonance with the Jewish messiah who was “cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.” The Jewish philosopher had written that “Isaiah 53 is one of the great poems about suffering and its meaning. God himself enters into world history to redeem mankind.”
So, he thought, “maybe we Jews have a real Krishna, a God coming in the flesh. I didn’t see him as Messiah really.” He did wonder how Gentiles could ever understand Jesus who was a great Jewish leader.
Mitch’s head was buzzing about Jesus. Once, out hiking with his kids, bullets came whizzing from a pheasant hunter. Mitch hardly noticed. “I was just standing there thinking about Jesus.” He was also beginning to think about his future too.
He erratically worried, “Jesus didn’t have a Jewish mother. My mother will be upset.” Such thoughts were careening back and forth as he thought about his search for meaning in all the god offerings of Haight Asbury. He also worried that his friends in Marin hippie community would think that he had become like another Sun King aimlessly orbiting over the drug cloud of the harbor. So, he grudgingly wrote Joanie and Freddy at the Oregon commune to ask them some questions.
In Haight Asbury he also stumbled onto a Christian evangelist from a local Southern Baptist seminary. The Baptists and other local evangelicals had started several communes, and Mitch started to hang out with them. At some point after reading a religious tract that he plucked from the rocky shore of Sausalito Bay Mitch showed up at Moishe’s front door (Moishe recalled that he first met Mitch on December 31, 1970).
Baruch decided that all this Jesus stuff was going to derail his and Jhan’s broad entrepreneurial vision. He hurried up to Oregon to cut off the source of threat. He would set things straight. At the ranch Baruch met Joan and Freddy, and they told him that would talk over their beliefs after he read the New Testament. He started to read the New Testament for the first time and was a little surprised how Jewish Jesus was. Shortly afterwards, Jhan, who was hanging out with freaks in Florida, received an alarming postcard from the Freaky Dude Ranch, “Baruch has burned his stash and is a Jesus freak!’
For Jhan this was too much. He too was into Jesus who was the happening of the moment. “I traveled with the New Testament. I even had a theologian, the mystic seerer Edgar Cayce, and had put Jesus into my worldview,” he mused. Jhan decided to go ahead with the business plan without the others. And who knows, maybe after his friends read Cayce, they would see how coke, hashish, Jesus and mysticism all fit together.
In Jamaica Jhan landed with the Rastafarians as his hosts. The Rastas were followers of Hailie Selassi as the Messiah of Judah who had given them a vision while they smoked hashish.
“It was great,” Jhan thought while relishing the cool Rastas and their hashish. The rastas told me, ‘If you smoke the herb, your blood is Black. Halliie Selassie is the King of Judah.’” Wow! The Jesus-drug connection, Jhan noted.
Jhan provide the money and the Rastas gave him hash and used the money to buy guns to overthrow their government. Hanging out with the outlaws in a hut at the top of the mountain at the head of a goat trail was great until his money ran out. Baruch and no one else at the Freaky Dude Ranch had sent the money for the drugs. Jhan was out on a limb with the Rastas. He had smoked a lot of their hash and made a promise of a big buy.
“You run out of money, the Rastas run out love,” Jhan said. So, he and a fellow drug buyer, who was also out of money, feared that the Rastas would think that they had been ripped off and would hurt or kill them. So, at an opportune moment they ran down a goat trail toward a bus stop. On the way down, Jhan thought he would give Jesus a try, “I prayed, Jesus, if you are real, get me off this mountain.” There, they sweated out for the bus to come. Finally, a bus to the airport came and they hopped on board and made it back to the United States. Jhan kept running all the way back to California and the Freaky Dude Ranch, where he met up with Baruch. They took a walk to update each other about what was happening.
Looking over the Pacific Ocean, Jhan told his friend about the Rastas, the drug scheme gone awry and what they needed to do next. In a forgiving move, he offered Baruch a hash pipe as a gesture of continued friendship.
“I don’t use that any more,” Baruch replied.
It was astonishing—Joanie, Mitch, Freddy—and now Baruch who was the adult of them all. Didn’t he know better than to go overboard with some spiritual trip? “You are a stone cold hedonist, Baruch!,” Jhan exclaimed. “Come on!”
Baruch said, “Things have changed. I have changed. Let me tell you about Jesus.” Mitch also invited Jhan to meet a guy named Moishe. Mitch explained, “He is a weird but cool guy.” The founder of Jews for Jesus recalled that “meeting Mitch and his friends was a turning point.” Other New Yorkers that joined up with Moishe included Steffi Geiser, Susan Perlman, Stuart Dauermann, Sam Nadler, and Miriam Schleichter. When Jhan visited the evangelist’s house, he prayed his faith in Jesus. But inside he still thought of his relation to Jesus was a tryout. He wasn’t really ready to buy into “the whole Jesus thing.” For one thing he didn’t think Jesus without dope would be as attractive as Jesus with dope. He asked Moishe what he should do.
“Say no first against the dope for Jesus,” Moishe advised. Jhan agreed to try that method experiment.
Later, a friend asked Jhan to drop acid with him. Jhan reasoned that this was an opportunity to try doing Jesus and the dope. However, he felt somewhat restrained by his conversation with Moishe.
“Just ask me twice to use dope,” he told his bemused friend.
“Do you want to drop together, man,” his friend asked.
“No. Ask me again,” the New Yorker said.
Then, Mitch found out about Jhan’s bargain with the devil and Jesus. “Mitch lays this trip on me about the good seed and the bad seed.” In Jesus’ parable the bad seed is one whose faith sprouts and then dies. “He made clear he thought I was the bad seed.”
That night Jhan had a disturbing dream of an Asian girl seducing him back into a nightmarish lifestyle. It felt like a bad drug trip and also echoed the movie “Chinatown,” which made the Asian district of Los Angeles an emblem of dark, irrational danger. The next night a Korean girl came up behind Jhan to put the squeeze on him at a Freaky Dude Ranch orgy. At the same time Mitch, as was his new custom, drew a cross on the fogged out window before he entered the commune. Jhan was spooked.
He started to feel a shock of hyperawareness of the connections between his parents’ near incineration by the Nazis, the New York gang’s brush with their own incineration during the drug deal gone bad, his running from the gun-toting, knife wielding Rastas and his directionless life. Where does it all end?, he wondered.
He turned to the Korean girl, “I can’t do this. I mean it.” Then, he walked over to Mitch to tell him, “I think God is real.” They walked out of the drug-infused orgy.
Baruch and Mitch took Jhan out to the park on 19th Avenue and Balboa. Jhan got on his knees on the grassy knoll and prayed, “I receive you Jesus.” Mitch, who was trying out Pentecostalism, then prayed over Jhan to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Later, Moishe came over to the Freaky Dude Ranch to check on Jhan. He ran into Jhan and a bevy of spaced out freaks and realized from the interactions at the ranch that Jhan hadn’t really trusted Jesus. Jhan was just trying to have his dope and Jesus too. The attempt landed him jail later.
The police raided the Ranch and threw everyone into jail. Fortunately, Jhan hadn’t been using drugs so he thought he would get out jail fast. He didn’t reckon that his stack of hitch-hiking tickets meant a trip to lockup if they weren’t paid. Since Jhan didn’t have the money, jail time seemed likely. Unexpectedly, Rosen showed up and paid the tickets.
The surprising generosity and forgiveness for his dissolute way of following Jesus drew Jhan’s attention to the active type of love that Christians practiced. He had always thought of love as a sort of nirvanic existence, a selfless passivity that didn’t hurt anyone. Now, he began to consider that there might be a difference between Nirvana and Heaven. Soon, the difference was vividly shown to him by an old German Messianic neighborhood bookshop owner that Jhan used to always ridicule.
Jhan walked into the bookshop to tell the story of his brushes with death and rescue by Jesus. As he set up his dramatic narrative, the frail, old bookshop owner bent down on his knees to ties Jhan’s shoes. The young hippie stuttered to silence. Here was a man that he had dismissed as an old fashioned fool, but he turned out to be a better person. The old man didn’t even gloat at Jhan’s hippy foolishness nor presumptuously leap for joy at helping to win a convert. He just got down on his knees.
Jhan thought, “’Okay God, that’s what I want.’ God used that day to teach me the difference between my Eastern mysticism and Christianity. One is selflessness in Nirvana, the other is using the self to serve others.” The young Jew left the old Jew to tell his middle aged Jewish parents in New York City that all was well with their son again.
While in the city, Jhan started a Christian commune on 106th Street and Amsterdam Avenue with Greek and African American Christians. They named their apartment, Beth Logos Aramba, a combination of Hebrew, Greek and Swahili, meaning The House of Love and Faith. His journey had gone from druggy houseboat to freaky ranch to Christian commune back to New York City.
In the meantime Moise’s activities worried his sponsors the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ). Some evangelicals complained that Rosen’s activities were zany or worse, buffoonish. Susan Perlman, a tough media savvy Brooklyn Jew, had introduced Moishe to the street tactics of the radical Saul Alinsky and the civil rights movement. Alinsky was teaching a high-profile, confrontational strategy to create social change on behalf of the poor and powerless. Rosen maintained that Jews in general and the youth in particular liked a good argument. This style contrasted sharply with the mild mannered, bureaucratic style of the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ). Unsurprisingly, in August 1973 Rosen was shown the exit door by headquarters. He went onto founding Jews for Jesus as a separate ministry.
Pretty soon, Rosen with his fellow New Yorkers revolved around back into New York City to help kickstart one of the small beginnings of the city’s evangelical resurgence. He told people, “I had gone to San Francisco to reach New York.”
Also see the Chronological sidebar: Searching for the Messiah in New York City
Based on interviews with the participants (named and anonymous) and contemporaries, archival research, sociological and historical publications, and reporting in the Bay Area of northern California. Re-published Jan 8, 2014, 7:00am.
The American Board of Missions to the Jews changed its name and style to Chosen People Ministries. In 1997 Mitch Glaser became president.