On a Friday night in early September, more than 150 people gathered under a domelike open structure built in the desert to sing, pray, light candles and share in the traditions of the Sabbath. The open-air design, decorated with colorful scarves and an illuminated Star of David, is not the typical place you might imagine celebrating the Sabbath.
In the middle of the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, more than 53,000 participants came to experience the 25th year of Burning Man, a counterculture city that comes to life for eight days each year. Based on 10 principles, including radical self-expression, self-reliance, leaving no trace and communal effort, Burning Man is the extreme sport of summer festivals. Facing dry, sizzling summer days, cold nights and 70-mile-an-hour dust storms, participants are pushed to their limits.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
In 1986, twenty people constructed and burned an 8 foot tall effigy of a man on a beach in San Francisco to celebrate the summer solstice in September. Admission was free.
By 2011, the event, now called Burning Man, had migrated to a dry lake bed in northern Nevada, with more than 53,000 people in attendance, ticket prices up to $360, and ending with the burning of a wooden effigy 120 feet tall.
Why would so many people come to a forsaken desert without accommodations and facilities and pay for the privilege? And is there anything particularly Jewish about Burning Man?
For the past few years, there has been a noticeable Jewish presence at the festival, but not one that appears to be sponsored by the likes of UJA, Federation, or Hadassah. Counterculture-minded Jews, mostly with an artistic bent, have carved out some uniquely Jewish space, and filled it with their interpretations of Shabbat and Jewish life.
As Abra Cohen writes in this week's Jewish Daily Forward,
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