Jews mythologize Grateful Dead seder

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NEW YORK — The Grateful Dead may be gone as a musical group since the death last year of its leader Jerry Garcia, but Jewish mythology about the much-beloved band lives on.

The Dead's large Jewish following has long speculated about the religious practices of Mickey Hart, the only Jewish member of the Dead and the band's drummer.

Hart is rumored to have been the guiding force behind the annual Passover seder that the Dead held backstage each spring when they played in New York City. It was a 45-minute gig between the sound check and the opening of the show.

The band's publicist, Dennis McNally, said the abbreviated seder was enjoyed by about 20 members of the Dead entourage, including sound guys and roadies, but that Hart would show up only for about five minutes of the ritual.

The last two Passover shows that the Dead played in the New York area were catered by Lou G. Siegel, a kosher deli in Manhattan.

The deli owner's son, Myles Share, got the catering assignment through people he met at shows he attended as he followed the band across the country in true Deadhead style.

Along with the requisite matzah ball soup and chopped liver, Share provided the seder participants with special yarmulkes, made of purple suede and stamped in gold with the Dead's signature "Steal Your Face" logo.

The haggadot bore the same logo, and became a hot collectible among Jewish Dead fans, Share said.

One of the yarmulke-and-Haggadah sets was sold at a synagogue auction in Marin for $500, he said.

Many of the Dead's Jewish fans claimed that the band scheduled shows in New York around Passover and Yom Kippur each year so that Hart could be with his mother for the holidays.

Grateful Dead spokesman Dennis McNally denied that report, calling it "a folk tale."

Hart was unavailable for comment, busy in the studio in the final stages of mixing his latest solo album.

But his personal assistant, Howard Cohen, set the record straight about Hart's Passover seder style.

"In the seven years I've known him, he's never had a seder," said Cohen. "He's not really what you'd call a practicing Jew."

McNally, the Dead's publicist, also put the kibosh on kibbitzing about Hart's level of kashrut.

"Mickey is a drummer," he said. "He worships the beat. His religion is percussion."