The Road to Keansburg: A Former Resident Migrates Home

Hesh Donnerstag is a Philadelphia-based DJ, journalist and teacher of Human Movement. He DJ'ed at Gratitude Migration in 2016 and has been teaching a “Movement as Medicine” workshop in 2016 and 2017. Having grown up in the town of Keansburg, New Jersey, Hesh reflects on his feelings about returning home for Gratitude Migration:

How is it possible that thousands of my fellow artists, musicians, performers, friends, and fellow fans are getting together on a beach in North Jersey to celebrate Life, Art, Music and each other - with the wonderful theme of migrating to be grateful - on the same exact beach that I walked as a child?

 Photo courtesy of Eraj Asadi

Photo courtesy of Eraj Asadi

Gratitude Migration will take place in the same town I saw destroyed by fire in the 1980s. In the same town I witnessed being destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, with water levels reaching second story windows - across from the same beach and boardwalk where this festival takes place.

These beaches and homes were so devastated by Sandy that Governor Chris Christie gave his initial recovery address from the shores of Keansburg, New Jersey. The destruction to the homes of my family and friends, as well as local businesses was immeasurable.

In 2001, I sat on this exact same beach and watched New York City burn to the ground for two weeks, located only seven and a half miles away across the bay. Those images after the attacks of 9/11 will live with me forever.

Keansburg is the same town where I’ve seen people die, struggle and fight against rough local social and economic factors for the last 40 years. The borough is roughly one square mile yet the local EMS team responds to almost 2000 calls per years. On top of challenging social issues and natural disasters, the local economy is struggling: This year I found out that my grade school and church were both recently shut down by the diocese of Trenton due to lack of funding. They were both institutions in my hometown for almost a century.

Enter: Gratitude Migration

This is the second year that Gratitude is descending upon this New Jersey, Bayshore town. And it has been truly amazing. Last year, 1400+ people, including world-class DJs, artists, musicians, performers, yoga instructors, dancers, dance instructors, music fans, and spiritual seekers - from technologists to environmental enthusiasts - came together to infuse this local economy with tens of thousands of dollars doing business at local restaurants, hotels and motels and on the boardwalk. Additionally, the producers of Gratitude Migration sourced equipment rentals, printing and construction materials from Keansburg and Monmouth County area businesses as much as possible, showing Gratitude to their local hosts in line with the festival’s ethos.

This is year two of a five-year deal with the Borough; and 2016 promises to be another home run for Gratitude Migration, the local economy, and the Borough and people of Keansburg - as well as musicians, artists, performers and fans!

This journalist/DJ/yogi/music fan can’t wait to return home and be grateful on the beaches of my birthplace with thousands of like-minded people.


A full version of this article first appeared on Tanzegemeinschaft 

 Image courtesy of Eraj Asadi

Image courtesy of Eraj Asadi