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23 Apr 2017

Coachella 2017: Shabbat Tent Is a Place for Jewish Attendees to Congregate—and for Everyone to Just Chill or Find Aid

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Rabbi Yonah Bookstein chills with some Coachella attendees in Shabbat Tent. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein chills with some Coachella attendees in Shabbat Tent. Brian Blueskye

Camping accommodations at Coachella are pretty sweet—if you like to party.

But what if you aren’t into partying, are Jewish, and are attending Coachella? Shabbat Tent has you covered.

Coachella and Passover tend to overlap at times—as was the case last weekend. This weekend, on Saturday morning—during the Sabbath—I noticed Shabbat Tent and decided to stop in. There, I met Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.

Before the service, Rabbi Bookstein’s volunteers offered attendees grape juice, wine or whiskey to drink during the service. One of the attendees raised his hand and said, “WHISKEY PLEASE!” He then added: “I LOVE JUDAISM!”

During the brief Sabbath service, Rabbi Bookstein discussed giving freely to others without expecting anything in return, as well as the meaning of establishing healthy boundaries.

Shabbat Tent doesn’t only show up at Coachella. When you look at the Shabbat Tent website, you’ll see it has appeared at numerous U.S. music festivals, both small and large. The tent is not only a place observe together; it’s also a place where people can get hot meals, water and even some entertainment.

“The idea of Shabbat Tent started in 1999,” Rabbi Bookstein told me after he finished the service. “A couple friends of mine noticed a lot of people of Jewish background going to these festivals. They want to observe some of their Jewish rituals together. They wanted to have a themed tent where they could get together. That was the original idea. They’re going to be there on Friday night during Shabbat, ‘So let’s do Shabbat together.’”

Bookstein told me that everyone is welcome in the tent. His wife, Rachel, and all the volunteers are very hospitable toward all.

Bookstein said Shabbat Tent organizers quickly learned they were on to something. “There are the people who want to come together. But then there are hundreds (of people), or at some festivals even thousands, who also want to benefit and participate. Maybe they have a Jewish background; maybe they want to do Shabbat.

“Then there’s another element, which is opening a hospitality tent. You can’t just make it for Jewish people; you have to make it for everybody. It’s got to be universal. Shabbat Tent became a universal tent to create a place of chill and community in the middle of the craziness of a music festival.

“Coachella is more of a party scene than any of the other festivals that I can think of. Some people have asked us, ‘Why would you go to Coachella? It’s nothing but a big party.’ Actually, that’s why we need to be here more than ever. Because Coachella is such a party atmosphere, there are not a lot of places for people to chill and relax. Here, I feel we’re a necessity as to what’s going on, to provide people with a safe and chill area.”

The Shabbat Tent was of great service to Coachella attendees who found themselves in distress this weekend, as a rash of robberies hit the festival.

“People here get robbed. Who else is going to give them water and food?” Bookstein said. “They just can’t walk over to any of those vendors and say, ‘Hey, my wallet got stolen. Can I have a burger?’ They can come to Shabbat Tent, and we’ll give them water and food. We had a few people sleeping here last night who had their tent stolen, and a couple of people had their friends leave and abandon them. They had no place to sleep and no food, so they slept here at the Shabbat Tent.

“There’s another element, which we never planned for, which is Coachella not serving Kosher food. We have a Kosher kitchen here.”

Is Rabbi Bookstein excited to see any of the acts at Coachella? He laughed when I asked him and he described himself as more of a bluegrass fan.

“This is not my kind of music,” he said. “I appreciate the people, and there are some really talented people here. There is somebody playing on Sunday who I want to see: Toots and the Maytals. But this is not my lineup. A couple of years ago, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers played, my wife and I went and saw them a little bit, which is was fun. I grew up a few decades ago, so that was the music I remembered from high school.”

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