Sabbath on the Playa

sukkatshalom

Friday evening of my second Burn, I had one of the holiest meals I can remember. As the stars came out, a big group gathered at camp Sukkat Shalom, lit candles, gave blessings, drank wine, and fried up crispy, savory latkes for each other to eat. It was an ideal way to ground the frenetic energy of the week in preparation for the following night’s burn. The cross-section of Burners interested in gathering to welcome the Sabbath was unlike that of any other on-playa scene. The wine, talk, and song flowed late into the night.

In subsequent years, the scene has been crazy. An overwhelming number of people show up. While I think that’s a great sign, it overloads the camp, and food is scarce. No theme camp’s gift is inexhaustible. But this year, Sukkat Shalom is crowd-funding a blowout Shabbat dinner experience. Here’s why I hope you’ll support it. Disclosure: I know and love lots of the people who run Sukkat Shalom.

The next-level Sukkat Shalom Shabbat dinner will begin under a blinky dome with LEDs that respond to the group’s singing as it welcomes the Sabbath, the holy day of rest and reflection, which ends at sundown on Saturday before the Man burns. The multi-course meal will be served at a Bedouin-style communal table in a subtly designed sound environment. It will be a sacred celebration, but it will also be a full-spectrum stimulus any Burner will love.

Sukkat Shalom is not a religious camp. Its name means “shelter of peace” in Hebrew, which is a thoroughly Jewish concept, but surely it’s one that makes sense to anyone who’s ever been to the Black Rock Desert. The camp calls itself “Jew-ish” (emphasis on “ish,” a term I personally can’t stand), but it does so in the name of inclusivity. It’s a camp run by some Jewish people and some non-Jewish people, and it has no religious requirements or expectations, but it’s framed by some Jewish concepts that apply beautifully on the playa. Shabbat is, in my opinion, the most powerful. Who doesn’t feel the specialness of Saturday at Burning Man?

sukkat2

I think about religion the whole time I’m in Black Rock City. There are so many pieces of religious life there if you’re inclined to look at them that way. The annual trek out there can feel like a pilgrimage. One of the central architectural features of the city is its Temple. Over the course of the week, time is demarcated by a series of ceremonies and offerings, the burns being the biggest examples. The desert itself is a classic site of personal revelation.

But the most powerful part of Burning Man culture is that it’s not prescriptive. These components of the experience are not specific representations of religious ideas. They’re archetypes of them, there for participants to share through their own lenses of meaning, even totally unreligious — or sacrilegious — ones. Just like the Temple is for everyone on the playa, regardless of what it means to them, I think Shabbat can be, too.

So consider supporting Sukkat Shalom’s Shabbat dinner on Indiegogo and help celebrate the sacredness of Friday night at Burning Man.

Images courtesy of Sukkat Shalom

About the author: Jon Mitchell

I'm the managing editor at Burning Man. I co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012, which lives at templestories.com. I've been a Burner since 2008.

6 thoughts on “Sabbath on the Playa

  • Over on the other end of the City, at 2:30 and E, the Black Hole Literary Society also welcomes the great and holy Shabbat. While only a couple of us are Jewish the entire camp, and any visitors that wander in, participates in an open arms pot-luck with wine, challah and blessings as the sun sets over the mountains. This has become a lovely tradition for our camp. I hope Sukkat Shalom is able to meet its goal and provide the joy, rest, peace and camaraderie that Shabbat brings the world.

    Report comment

  • I used to be Jewish, but then I started going to Burning Man and realized it was a great alternative to religion. I get all my spiritual needs from Burning Man, the 10 Principals guide my everyday behaviors. Although the only one I really understand completely is the one about cleaning up after myself. The others are great, because no one really knows what they mean.

    Report comment

  • @ Jim — Terrific … I spend 40 days up a mountain in a desert and bring down a guide for life that Jews have been studying for 3,000 years … You spend a few days at a rave and throw that out for something written by a guy chain smoking in Mexico — and “no one really knows what they mean…..” Good one. Party on, dude!

    Report comment

  • Leave a Reply