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I just returned from a one-month trip to Israel, where we celebrated the bat mitzvah of my eldest daughter, Maya. Israel is, in my opinion, the most incredible country on Earth. For someone like me who loves history, archaeology, spirituality, politics, good food, great weather, and spending time with family, there is no better place to be (apologies to the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed”). Yet my time in Israel did not afford me enough opportunity to delve into its depth. I could, and probably should, spend a lifetime there to explore and understand that depth.
Since we traveled as a family, I wanted to include lighter activities for our daughters, aged 12 and 8, such as plenty of beach and pool time, rafting on the Jordan river, and making chocolate at a kibbutz chocolate factory. The one activity I did not enjoy was shopping. But I live with three women. My wife graciously encouraged me to take off for Jerusalem on the days when she and our daughters went shopping in malls near her family village of Gedera. This allowed me plenty of time in Jerusalem, a city I really love.
For a Jew, Jerusalem is the center of the world. And at the center of that center is the Kotel, or Wailing Wall, the western remnant of the Temple Mount, destroyed by the Romans over two thousand years ago. The Kotel is where Jews have for generations gone to pray, as it is near to the sites of the First Temple and the Second Temple, where ancient Jews sought to be close to G-d.
I must admit that, as far as prayer goes, my ability to pray is much like my “prowess” in jogging and tennis. Without constant practice, I’ve lost my skills.
When I first approached the Kotel, I was in awe. I also realized my prayers felt dry and rehearsed. I had asked G-d for the usual stuff (i.e., good health for me and my family, a good living, etc.), except that it felt like I was eating at the best restaurant in the world but could not taste the food. I sensed I was in a spiritual block. Before consulting a rabbi (there are plenty hanging around the Kotel), I decided to try to work it through myself.
The next day my girls accompanied me to the Kotel. As we approached the wall, I told my daughters, Maya,12, and Nava, 8, some of its history, though they both knew a bit about it from their Jewish day school classes. I decided to add a mystical twist, suggesting they each approach the wall and seek out one of its embedded Herodian stones, set in place more than two thousand years ago. I advised them: “Find a stone that speaks to you. Then open your heart and pray to G-d.”
After about forty-five minutes of prayer, we reconvened at the plaza. I queried the girls on how it was for them. Maya, who had celebrated her bat mitzvah ten days prior on top of Masada, volunteered “It was good.” She confided that she was a little anxious about starting the sixth grade in the fall. She had heard that the math curriculum was harder than fifth-grade math, and she was worried about it — and whether all the kids in sixth grade would be as sweet and kind as they were in the fifth grade. She was also concerned about the California drought and asked G-d to deal with that. After sharing all this with me, she broke into a big smile and then told me that she felt her younger sister did not really understand the difference between praying and making a wish before blowing out candles on a birthday cake. She had listened in on Nava’s appeal at the Kotel: “if you get me a pony, I promise we will keep it in the back yard, and I’ll be responsible for feeding her.” Maya and I both chuckled. But later that night I reflected on both daughters’ prayers. I wondered if they were the spiritual teachers I needed for my own breakthrough on praying.
The following day I approached the Kotel with a new paradigm, and suddenly, I felt like an in-shape athlete. Instead of merely asking G-d for the things I wanted, I realized G-d and I were in a relationship, and like every relationship, there needs to be communication and love before asking for things. Instead of praying for stuff for me, I prayed for the ability to give more heart-based charity and to be less judgmental and more compassionate. In the ensuing days, I noticed my praying was more fluid and deeper. I noticed something else remarkable. During my first trip to the Kotel, I had been standing in prayer next to a fellow who wore shabby clothes and, frankly, smelled pretty bad. Even in this most holy of places, I could not avoid judgmental thoughts about the man. Yet, gradually, after my paradigm shift in prayer, my feelings about this fellow changed. No longer did I view him in a negative way. He was like everyone else here, a person who was reaching out to G-d.
As I mused over this radical change in my thinking, I recalled a Reb Shlomo Carlebach story about a student who, after encountering a gruff and course person, has a similar paradigm shift. The student realizes that the person whom he had harshly judged was in reality one of the hidden thirty-six righteous people in the world. I am not so enlightened to know if the man I encountered at the Kotel was at that level, but it did make me wonder. It demonstrates to me I still have a lot of spiritual work to do.
Another perspective on the fifty year farewell tour of the Grateful Dead
My intense and everlasting connection to the Grateful Dead is well known to those who know me – and to those who happened to have read my earlier blog post about my experiences with the Dead. While a high school and college student in New York, I attended over fifty Dead shows and considered myself a legitimate “head,” traveling to see the band at Harpur College, Cornell, Long Island, Knickerbocker Arena, and Madison Square Garden, amongst some of the many East Coast venues. By 1978 I found myself as a first year law student in San Diego California (having tired of New York winters). I happened to meet my neighbor, Bill Walton, who had just signed a contract to play with the then San Diego Clippers. Bill and I became instant friends. Shortly thereafter we attended the close of Winterland in San Francisco. And later that year the Dead came to San Diego to play shows in Golden Hall. There were parties and dinners at Bill’s house after the concerts. I met and became friends with Ramrod (legendary “president” of the Grateful Dead and head of the road crew) and was awed when he introduced me to Jerry, Bobbie, Mickey and Bill K. Within a few weeks Ramrod had given me a number of legal assignments and, while still a first-year law student at California Western School of Law in San Diego, I found myself doing legal work for the Grateful Dead. Talk about a long strange trip! Over the next twenty years I worked off and on for the Dead and attended over 300 shows, often backstage.
1995 was a tough year for me. Not only did Jerry Garcia leave this world but, by coincidence (if there is such a thing), my mother died that year too, along with my best friend, Arthur H. Hartfelt, a rather “famous” Deadhead. Jerry and my mother had met once. My mom was a unique and wonderful Jewish mother from a very tough neighborhood called Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, New York. In the early 1990s she came to San Francisco as a tourist and was mugged outside of the St. Francis Hotel. It was a big local news story, and KTVU sent a camera crew to the hospital to interview my mom, recovering from broken hips. I suppose the media angle was this: a sweet grandmother from a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, who had never been assaulted there, gets assaulted in San Francisco. The owner of David’s Deli on Geary Street sent a package of matzah-ball soup and corned beef sandwiches to my mother’s hospital room daily. Jerry Garcia, too, had seen the TV coverage and was so moved he drove to St. Francis Memorial Hospital to visit my mom. I missed seeing Jerry, but when I arrived later that day my mother told me that Jerry had come to visit. She told me he was very pleasant. She also told me that she had told Jerry he was very handsome but would look better if he trimmed his beard. (My mother said that to all of my friends – to get haircuts.)
Suffice to say, the Dead have been an important part of my life. So when I first heard about the Grateful Dead reunion tour I became somewhat sad, knowing I would miss it. Earlier this year my wife and I were wrestling with the idea of how to celebrate our oldest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. A Bat Mitzvah is a right of passage for a Jewish girl upon reaching the age of 12, becoming obliged to fulfill more of the rights and responsibilities of being an adult. Maya had come home from school one day and told us that she had learned of the history of Masada, the desert fortress on the shores of the Dead Sea. This story deeply affected Maya and she announced that she wanted to have her Bat Mitzvah on top of Masada!
For those of you who do not know the history, over two thousand years ago the imperial Roman army attacked and destroyed Jerusalem and other centers of Jewish life in the land of Israel. The Romans sacked the temple, the center of Jewish practice and culture, and cast all Jews out of the country. The exiled Jews were scattered across the globe. Israel was renamed Palestine. In resistance, a small group of Jewish revolutionaries (who weren’t about to take that shit) fled Jerusalem and set up camp in an abandoned mountain fortress called Masada in the desert. The Romans were not content to let these revolutionary zealots live there, so they invaded Masada. As a statement of ultimate protest – refusing to become Roman slaves – they took their own lives.
When Maya told us of her Bat Mitzvah wishes, I was inspired to take out a recording of Jerry Garcia singing with Merle Saunders The Harder They Come, a Bob Marley classic. “I would rather be a free man in my grave than living as a puppet or a slave.” The next thing I did was to begin planning a one-month trip to Israel to celebrate Maya’s Bat Mitzvah. Needles to say we selected the dates, and purchased airline tickets, long before the Grateful Dead announced their reunion farewell tour.
Oh well. So I write this essay from Israel, where I make a l’chaim ( a toast to Life). I make a l’chaim to those who will be attending the shows this weekend and next weekend. And to those like me who have other weekend obligations and responsibilities that are as meaningful and awesome as the Dead concerts.
If Jerry were here (or at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in Masada) I’m sure he would understand and say, l’chaim! – To Life!
As described in the history/bio section of my web site http://www.litigateforjustice.com/ I have been blessed to know and work with a number of really special people. While I was in law school, Bill Walton and I were neighbors in San Diego, and to this day, we are still good friends. Bill introduced me to Lawrence “Ramrod” Shurtliff, the legendary chief Roadie, and President of the Grateful Dead organization. Ramrod was really the heart and soul of the Grateful Dead.
In 1978, during a dinner at Bill’s house, I described to members of the Grateful Dead, including Jerry Garcia, Bobby Weir, Mickey Hart, and Ramrod, how impacted California public school music programs would become due to budget cuts connected to Proposition 13. A few days later, unsolicited, an envelope came for me from the Grateful Dead office with a note from Ramrod. He wrote,” ….Everyone was touched by what you spoke about the other night, let’s do something about it…”. To my amazement, there was also a check for $10,000.00 in the envelope. When I called Ramrod to ask about the check, he simply said, “There is a problem, go fix it.” I was a young law student. I now suddenly had a client, a problem, and a way to address the problem. I had my marching orders from the Grateful Dead, and a check from the Rex Foundation, the Grateful Dead’s charitable arm. Over the next few weeks, I was able to coordinate the purchase and distribution of hundreds of musical instruments which were distributed to public schools.
This episode began my friendship with Ramrod, which lasted over twenty five years until his death. At one point in our friendship, after I had already been practicing law for about twenty years, Ramrod asked me to prepare trust and estate documents (i.e., wills and trust) for him and his wife Frances. Since that is not an area of the law that is my specialty, I referred the matter to a colleague of mine. Ramrod asked me to attend the meeting with the estate planning lawyer. When the lawyer asked Ramrod who he wanted to serve as executor of his and his wife Frances’ estate, I was surprised and honored that I was asked to serve.
As these things often happen, just several months after preparing his estate plan, sadly, my good friend Ramrod was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. A number of colleagues and friends were summoned to the Northern California Hospital. There, in the lounge, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Steve Parrish (another legendary roadie of the Dead), Bill Walton and I gathered to hear the very bad prognosis from the physician. As the doctor told us about the various conditions and their consequences to our friend’s prognosis, I could not help but think about the lyric from the Grateful Dead song “The Wheel” that Mickey Hart, Bobbie Weir and Jerry Garcia had sung thousands of times. As the doctor continued his descriptions about the cancer and its ravages on various organs of the body, I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics from “The Wheel,” “…If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will…”
Ramrod passed within a few days of that meeting.
I miss Ramrod and his wife Frances. They were the embodiment of the values of friendship, kindness, compassion and consciousness that were part of the Grateful Dead scene. Ramrod was fearless and straight up.
I sometimes think of the lyrics of “The Wheel” during my legal practice. My clients often come to me during a “thunder and lightning” storm of their lives. Sometimes, the thunder or lightning has already stricken them (i.e., they have been hurt, injured, ripped off, fired, or victimized). In cases like that, I try to bring them back to where they were before the storm. Sometimes, clients come to me during a storm, and I help them navigate their way through the thunder and lightning.
Sometimes as a lawyer, it is important to remember as well, the incredible mystery and consciousness of our universe. The lyrics of “The Wheel” help.
Most of my clients love to participate in sports. Some are weekend golfers, tennis players, horse back riders, skiers, bicyclist, runners, hunters, backpackers. Others participate in organized leagues of basketball, baseball or football. Regardless of the sport, most of us love to be active and compete! Personally, I love that adrenaline high that comes with athletic activity.
Have you noticed that more and more often these days, when you participate in an event, you are asked to sign a document often entitled “waiver of liability.” Why does the organizer of the event or activity ask you to sign such a document? Chances are, they are doing it at the instruction or suggestion of their insurance company or of the suggestion of a business organization.
Two questions that I am often asked by clients is, 1) Am I required to sign such a waiver in order to participate in the activity? and 2) What if anything is the affect of my signing the waiver?
Let’s start the discussion with some simple definitions. A waiver of liability is a document that attempts to relieve an organization or person of liability or responsibility for another person’s injury. In theory, a waiver of liability will preclude injured parties from collecting damages for medical expenses, wage losses, and pain and suffering for injuries that they have sustained. For example if you participate in a bicycle race, you may be asked to sign a waiver of liability against the organizers of the race for injuries that you sustain during the race.
So let me do my best to answer the posed questions. First, should you sign the waiver. If you are able to participate in the event without signing the waiver, by all means, I suggest that option. If the organizers or owners require your signature before participation and you want to participate, I suppose you will need to sign the document. However, if an injury occurs, don’t think that the waiver is an iron-clad defense in your being able to recover damages for your medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering due to someone else’s negligence.
Let me give you an example of a recent case that I handled. My client was a participant in “dressage”, i.e., horse jumping. Having grown up in Brooklyn, New York, I do not know a lot about horse jumping. But having read about Christopher Reaves (aka Superman) and his terrible horse-jumping accident that caused paralysis, I can imagine that being on the back of a horse jumping over fences has some inherent risk.
My client suffered serious personal injury when the horse that she was on fell on top of her. As I interviewed her at our first meeting in her hospital room, I asked her how the accident occurred. She told me that she wasn’t exactly sure but she was unable to control the horse. In that meeting I learned an interesting fact which helped us defeat the waiver and win the case. The waiver was clear and was one of the most comprehensive that I have seen in my thirty-plus years legal career. It acknowledged that dressage (i.e., horse-jumping) is a dangerous sport and that the stable would under no circumstances be responsible for injury as a result of participating in that sport.
But as I filed a law suit on behalf of my client I had a strategy which I knew would defeat the waiver. The facts of the case revealed that the stable had been notified that a neighbor was doing recycling on certain days. We tracked down the facts and found that the recycling occurred on the very day of the accident. What happens on recycling day? Well, there is often the sound of crashing bottles. That is what happened on the day of the accident. The crashing bottles had spooked the horses and caused the fall. The waiver was therefore deemed useless, and I was able to assist my client in recovering significant damages to cover her medical bills, lost wages and money for her pain and suffering.
Whether a waiver of liability is an iron-clad document, or not even worth the paper it is written on, depends on the facts. That said, go out and enjoy sports!