Sun­dance Shab­bat

Forward Magazine - - News - By Alyson Krueger Con­tact Alyson Krueger at feed­back@ for­

Rabbi Jonah Book­stein of­fers hip­sters and hus­tlers a sa­cred respite at the film fes­ti­val — not to men­tion at Coachella, Bon­na­roo and else­where.

It was open­ing night at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, and tony Park City, Utah, was hop­ping.

Peo­ple from all over the world stood in the snow for hours to get into bashes thrown by YouTube, Stella Ar­tois, Chase Sap­phire and the night­club Tao. Inside were hot DJs and mu­si­cians, pre­mium open bars, celebrity sight­ings and in­valu­able net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The thou­sands who were turned away at the doors packed into the town’s many bars, like High West, the world’s only ski-in, ski-out whiskey dis­tillery.

In the heart of the ac­tion, in a small rented condo on Main Street, a stylish group gath­ered for a dif­fer­ent type of event: Shab­bat dinner.

Forty peo­ple had reg­is­tered in ad­vance, but al­most 100 showed up to light the Shab­bat can­dles and say a prayer over the chal­lah and wine. They min­gled with Jews from the film in­dus­try while guz­zling down home­made matzo ball soup, munch­ing on fried chicken nuggets and falafel. The buzzy room grew quiet for a per­for­mance by Kosha Dillz, an Amer­i­can Jewish rap­per who makes up his beats on the spot.

“It felt like a to­tal break from Sun­dance,” said Me­gan Green, a 31-year-old from New York City who works for Google Play and at­tended the dinner. “You could stop by and have a bowl of soup and hang out and make new friends with other Jews.”

The dinner was or­ga­nized by Shab­bat Tent, a Los An­ge­les-based not­for-profit group that sets up creative spa­ces for Jews to gather at fes­ti­vals.

For Sun­dance, Shab­bat Tent rented a cozy condo where, in ad­di­tion to hav­ing dinner, vis­i­tors could at­tend a To­rah class, a rock­ing hav­dalah cer­e­mony and other ac­tiv­i­ties. For Coachella, the an­nual spring mu­sic and arts fes­ti­val in Cal­i­for­nia’s Colorado Desert, the group pro­cured an ac­tual tent where Jews in fringe biki­nis and cut-off shorts gath­ered for a Passover Seder. At Desert Trip in Oc­to­ber, at the same Colorado Desert site, it served as a safe space for peo­ple to meet af­ter Roger Wa­ters’s per­for­mance, dur­ing which he avowed sup­port for the boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions move­ment against Is­rael to, he said, pres­sure the Jewish state to end its oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank.

At other fes­ti­vals, Shab­bat Tent hosted med­i­ta­tion ses­sions, yoga classes and spir­i­tu­al­ity dis­cus­sions. The space is al­ways open for any­one —Jewish or not — seek­ing shel­ter, wa­ter, snacks or a place to lounge and rest. “It serves as a kind of sanc­tu­ary,” said Rabbi Yonah Book­stein, Shab­bat Tent’s na­tional di­rec­tor.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion un­of­fi­cially started in 1999 at the Mil­len­nium Eve con­cert head­lined by Phish. More than 85,000 peo­ple camped out at the Big Cy­press In­dian Reser­va­tion in South Florida for a two-day event, and a group of rab­bis and friends de­cided to set up a tent for the many Jews there. The ex­pe­ri­ence was such a suc­cess that the or­ga­niz­ers repli­cated it at more than a dozen Phish con­certs and mu­sic fes­ti­vals in the next few years.

Now Shab­bat Tent is an of­fi­cial or­ga­ni­za­tion that op­er­ates across the coun­try. It gets fund­ing from donors like the Alevy Fam­ily Foun­da­tion and Beth El Syn­a­gogue in Los An­ge­les, and has a team of vol­un­teers who work un­der Book­stein to over­see the of­fer­ings.

Over the past five years, Shab­bat Tent or­ga­niz­ers have set up shop at the Lock’n Fes­ti­val, in the Blue Ridge Moun­tains; the Beale Street Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee; South by South­west, Bon­na­roo, the High Sierra Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, and the Rain­bow Gath­er­ing, among other events. Over the course of 2016 more than 6,000 fes­ti­val­go­ers vis­ited Shab­bat Tent, the group’s or­ga­niz­ers say.

“I think it’s al­ways nice to be able to feel like you have a com­mu­nity on the road,” Green said at Sun­dance. “I felt like I was be­ing in­vited into some­one’s home and eat­ing my mother’s chicken soup.”

But she ac­knowl­edged there was also net­work­ing hap­pen­ing — young peo­ple try­ing to meet the right peo­ple to jump­start their film ca­reers.

“It was def­i­nitely a Jews help­ing Jews kind of thing,” Green said.

Con­versely, Ed­ward Savio, a 53-yearold screen­writer and nov­el­ist from San Fran­cisco, loved that Shab­bat Tent at Sun­dance gave him a break from talk­ing shop. “We par­tic­i­pated in some­thing that had noth­ing to do with film,” he said. “It had noth­ing to do with mak­ing money or push­ing a project, and it was just peo­ple hang­ing out and talk­ing and re­lax­ing. It had a dif­fer­ent vibe.”

Book­stein in­sists the fo­cus of his or­ga­ni­za­tion is on pro­vid­ing ser­vices to his vis­i­tors: healthy food, wa­ter, shade, even a place to go to the bath­room. But there is also the greater mis­sion of help­ing Jews, es­pe­cially younger ones, con­nect or re­con­nect with their Jewish roots.

Savio grew up in a house­hold where Ju­daism was some­thing he felt guilty over, not some­thing to en­joy. The Fri­day night dinner at Sun­dance changed his per­spec­tive. “It was a nice way to cel­e­brate a re­li­gious rit­ual,” he said. “It was like, hey, this isn’t weird. It was just fun.”


Good Times: Above: Rachel Book­stein, Shab­bat Tent’s co-di­rec­tor, leads can­dle­light­ing at the High Sierra Fes­ti­val last July. Be­low: Col­lege stu­dents in the Shab­bat Tent at Coachella last April.

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