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“Max Said Yes! The Woodstock Story” by Abigail Yasgur

(Editor’s note: Abigail Yasgur is the sister of Cincinnati resident Howard Yasgur.)

Many readers of the American Israelite can remember when the Woodstock festival took place back in 1969, although the joke goes that if you can remember it, you probably weren’t there.

For today’s young generation (the book is recommended for children age 3-8), “Max Said Yes” tells the story of Woodstock in a large format book of bright illustrations in the style of the pop art of the 1960s. The text is in the form of a poem, and the main character, Max Yasgur, is a real person, the dairy farmer who allowed the festival to be held on his farm. 

Probably most people don’t realize that the Yasgurs are a Jewish family. Originally published in 2009, this second edition is being published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the music festival. The poem hints at the opposition from many in the community, referring to other farmers refusing to host a huge group of what they perceived to be dirty hippies. When Max Yasgur went against the local sentiment and agreed to let his farm be used, signs sprang up asking people to boycott his dairy products.

The advertising for Woodstock promised “three days of peace and music,” and the illustrations have plenty of peace signs and people in tie-dye dancing to the music. Those who remember the 1960s will recognize the vintage VW vans and Beetle cars, and the long hair and peasant blouses that were popular at that time. There are scenes of people strumming guitars, sitting around the campfire, and sharing food. 

The concert itself featured some of the most famous acts of those years. The illustrations just show bands of different sizes on the stage, but the information in the back of the book lists some of the most well-known performers such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane.

Abigail Yasgur is Max’s second cousin and was director of the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles for 12 years. Abigail was 14 when Woodstock took place, too young to attend, but she saw the media coverage at the time. She never met Max, who suffered from heart problems and died at age 53 in 1973. It was only four years after the Woodstock festival, but he had already sold the farm and moved to Florida. 

People might not remember the Yasgur name if it had not been immortalized in Joni’s Mitchell’s song that mentions “going on down to Yasgur’s farm.” (The complete lyrics of the song are included in the back of the book.) 

In doing research for this book, Abigail interviewed Max’s widow, Miriam, and attended a reunion of Woodstock officials. One colorful character present at the reunion was Wavy Gravy, a clown and peace activist who emceed and helped keep order at the festival. 

Abigail’s co-author is her husband, Joseph Lipner, a novelist. He sees a parallel between the Woodstock ideals of peace and love and the Jewish concept of hachnasat orchim,” or welcoming guests.

With the intended audience being young children, the free love and illegal drugs aspects of Woodstock are absent, and there isn’t much clue of how sanitation must have been lacking with almost half a million people camping out on a farm. Also not included is the ironic fact that the result of that many people on the farmland for several days made it unsuitable for dairy farming, and Max even received an insurance settlement because of the damage. Many years later, the land was purchased and is now the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, containing indoor and outdoor concert venues and a museum. The center has helped the economy of the area, which used to be the region where many of the “Borscht Belt” resorts attracted vacationers.

An overall theme is the idealism of the hippy movement, when people thought everyone really could learn to get along and care about each other. People of various races and ages are shown enjoying food and music together, with some women holding babies. The illustrator, Barbara Mendes, began her art career publishing in Underground Comix under the name Willy Mendes. Her epic biblical murals are on permanent display in Jerusalem and Florida. Many books have been written about the Woodstock festival, but this is the first one with a text specifically for young children. Because of the quality of the detailed illustrations, this book can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

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