A Shabbat Tent At Phish Concert
06/29/2011
Special To The Jewish Week
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In the spirit of Abraham and Sarah, Esther and Icculus, free from politics and proselytizing, a tent will be opened on all sides at SuperBall IX, the Phish festival set to take place in Watkins Glen, N.Y., July 1 to 3.

The “Shabbat Tent” will provide a space for Jewish and other Phish fans to experience the Sabbath the way they want to experience it. The best part? Fans get to combine a love of music with a love of Shabbat.

The Shabbat Tent organization, which came out of an informal gathering at a Phish festival in 1999 and has set up tents from California to Florida and all points in between, does not do kiruv, or religous outreach. Most people who will participate would be at the festival regardless, organizers said. The Tent is simply provides a space for those people.

“There’s no sort of, ‘You have to behave like an Orthodox Jew, you have to behave like a Renewal Jew,’” Adam Weinberg said.

Weinberg, 31, is a Florida-based full-time concert promoter who has seen more than 80 Phish concerts. He was present at the legendary Big Cypress New Year’s Eve Phish fest that birthed the first official Tent, and he thinks Jewish identity and the Phish experience are very much intertwined. The fact that SuperBall IX ads have been spotted on The Jerusalem Post website – and that a contingent of Chabadnik Phans from Crown Heights plan to set up their own tents alongside The Shabbat Tent -- speaks to this.

Practically, the Tent will provide a vegan Friday night dinner for 300 to 500, a Saturday kiddush, a third meal for 200 to 300 people and continuous snacks. There will be a Carlebach-style Kabbalat Shabbat, Torah reading on Saturday and Havdalah.

“People use the space in between to have a tranquil experience and hang out amidst some of the chaos of the festival,” said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, 41, one of the major organizers behind Shabbat Tent, which is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization.

There are many kids with some degree of Shabbat observance who are massively obsessed with Phish, Weinberg said. There are also many unaffiliated Jews who might like a little challah and wine between sets. But regardless of observance, the idea of separating yourself form creating and destroying for 24 hours is a concept that Phish fans connect with, he said. “We’re doing it because we know that they’re kids who need it.”

While his Shabbat observance fluctuates, Weinberg said the combination of Phish and Jewish practice is magical.

“There’s nothing like davening Kabbalat Shababt and that night or the next day or the next night being able to see Phish,” he said.

The Shabbat Tent will be set up in a high-traffic area of the festival campgrounds, Rabbi Bookstein said. “At some festivals, because of a certain alignment of...” he searches for the phrase, “let’s just say we are fortuitous to put up a tent in the vendor area: They call it Shakedown Street.” This takes more resources and funding, so they till need to raise more money. But Bookstein says tent organizers have momentum and a lot of excited people have contacted wanting to participate.

Avi Lichtshein, a 24-year-old rabbinical student at Yeshivah University and avid Phish fan, was one of the first to contact Bookstein about bringing Shabbat Tent to SuperBall. He wanted to channel two of his passions – Phish and Judaism – but he was worried about Shabbat observance. After getting the go-ahead from Bookstein, Lichtschein contacted donors and friends in his hometown of Teaneck, N.J. to help raise the more than $10,000 needed to run a successful Tent.

“It seems like a unique, original, wonderful opportunity,” he said.

Lichtschein has already attended five Phish concerts this summer. Whenever he saw people at the shows this summer who were Jewish, he told them about the project and many expressed interest.

“We have more volunteers and willing participants to do this around the country than we have funds to coordinate and sponsor,” Rabbi Bookstein said.

The question of why so many Jews seem drawn to festival-friendly music in general, and Phish’s unique brand in particular, has many answers.

“I believe that Jews are drawn to transcendent collective experiences,” Bookstein said. “It started 3,500 years ago in the Sinai desert, and it’s continued throughout our history.”

Historically, the major Jewish festivals were times of mass pilgrimage and camping -- and music. So it’s not surprising that Jews are drawn to this in great numbers, because it is so much a part of being Jewish to want to connect and transcend with others.

Young people specifically are drawn to events that help reaffirm their identity, and there’s something haimish about Phish that resonates with young Jews.

The beauty of Shabbat Tent is being able to get into theological discussions about Judaism and then to slip into analytical conversations about Phish – to simultaneously debate texts and sets.

Jews are into Phish because of “the constant originality that the band presents and the search for something deep and meaningful,” Lichtshein said. The music is powerful and spontaneous, provides active role for the participants and, aside from that, there’s an undeniable sense of community at a Phish show.

“There’s no strangers,” he said. “It’s just friends you haven’t met.”

But pulling it off may not be as simple as setting up a tent and singing a pretty tune.

“Just daven that we don’t get stuck in 18 hours of traffic,” Weinberg said.

Josh Fleet is Assistant Editor for Religion at The Huffington Post, where he has written about the Jewish-Phish connection in greater detail. If you are a Jewish Phan, please contact him at joshuafleet {at} gmail {dot} com. He wants to hear your tales.

 

Comments

How terrible...please don't go calling these people "Rabbis"....to agree to something like this is simply un-Jewish. You can't go to a concert on Shabbat--many wouldn't go in general because of the non-Kosher food and activities going on between men and women (not to mention the dress..). Come on, Shabbat at a Phish concert? Please don't bother....if you can't skip a stupid concert for the holiest day of the week then maybe you should sit down and try to figure out why it is you even care to have this "Shabbat Tent".

You all should look into (and support) another awesome project by the Shabbat Tent folks: The Festival Scroll http://shabbattent.com/?p=164

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