By Rabbi Daniel Bortz
Recently I finished my third annual stint at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. We help to run a Shabbat hospitality tent for Jewish attendees with kosher food, challah, kiddush, havdalah, and a safe place for all festival goers to hydrate, rest and schmooze.
Listen to any teenager or millennial describe it, and you’ll probably come away thinking that Coachella is the most incredible place on earth. But I’m here to tell you the truth: The festival is hell… with moments of heaven. Granted I was camping and not in a hotel which exacerbated these facts: It’s over 100-degrees, dust storms hit your throat and eyes, dehydration, large crowds, thumping noise at night, and sleeping on the ground. But we are taught to learn a lesson from everything we see, as the verse in Proverbs says, “In all your ways, know Him (G-d).” For all of the negatives, here are some moments of inspiration I took from the festival experience (besides for the amazing moments we had in the tent on Shabbat and havdalah with guests so excited to celebrate their Judaism).
First, there’s the music. Music, perhaps more than any other single thing on earth, has the power to move and unite people, regardless of background or viewpoint. Judaism is like music, in that both have rules and structure that are meant to help the one experiencing it, to transcend the very structure through following its rhythm. The order of praying every day is there to help us develop a sense of gratitude and purpose, tuning in our spiritual receptors. Those who knew the songs and the band’s intention behind it were much more in tune with the music than those who didn’t.
To see a crowd of 10’s of thousands jumping together in unison to a DJ and singing the words of an artist they all loved was special. People are like one unit when they connect on a soul level to something that transcends their superficial differences. When Hans Zimmer began playing the Lion King soundtrack, watching a massive crowd of grown men revert to their inner child and put their hands up in unison like Rafiki did with Simba, was pretty cool. Visit the Western Wall for Friday night prayers, and I can promise you it is as intensely unifying and inspirational as any location in Coachella. Song and dance unites us.
Be yourself. Yes, Coachella has probably the most cliché, fashion focused to get the perfect “selfie” culture of any festival on earth. But it’s also made up of people who dance without self-consciousness, dressed in funny outfits and simply enjoying the moment.
The giving people. In my experience, especially camping, and perhaps because we’re there purely to give out love and good vibes, I’ve found the community of people there to be the kindest, most giving people. We share and help each other out and host one another. People from all walks of live commiserating about struggles, achievements, and dreams. We all want to live happy, fulfilled lives, and on this one weekend in a secluded environment away from school and work, there are no stresses or competition, just living life. We could do worse than to bring this attitude of giving and openness to our daily lives.
And lastly, don’t be like my 19-year-old camping neighbor who was tripping on LSD and panicking when his tent flew away with the wind, hundreds of feet above him. Allow yourself to fully experience the joys and mysteries of life and Judaism; they can get your mind higher than any drug.