Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
It’s tough to describe a weekend of a million memories in just a short post, but here we go.
Jewlicious “SummerFest”, held Aug. 16-19 on the campus of Camp Alonim, and Brandeis Bardin Conference Center in Simi Valley, CA, brought in 250 Jewish young adults from around the country. The program took place thanks to patrons: The Adam and Gila Milstein Foundation, the Jewish Community Foundation Los Angeles, and the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles Valley Alliance.
We began SummerFest - also referred to as Camp Jewlicious — three years ago, creating a Jewish summer camp themed fest that was part nostalgic summer camp and part inspiring music festival.
Festival-goers had the opportunity to sleep in air-conditioned cottages, camp bunks or to camp out outdoors under the stars. Tent camping was by far the most original and affordable way to have fun. 100 people camped out in tents and RV’s!
Bonfires, and camp-style shabbat experiences mingle with yoga, hikes, meditation, sports, rock climbing, swimming and mountain biking. Arts & crafts this year included Shabbat candle making, batik challah covers, and tie-dying.
Music was a critical component of the weekend’s excitement. Thursday and Sunday featured singer/songwriters Mikey Pauker, Laura Wiley, Rav Shmuel, Natan Winkler, Griffith Clawson, and Martin Starrow all playing acoustic sets. Saturday night’s three hour show featured Pato - whose show I will describe below - and Ari Herstand. And after the concert, festival-goers celebrated until dawn at a rave party perched high upon a bluff at the House of the Book, while others jammed on drums and guitars around a bonfire.
Summerfest did not shy away from spirituality, but embraced multiple expressions of Jewish observance. Three concurrent Kabbalat Shabbat services provided many ways to connect. Jewish world-music star Yehudah Solomon of Moshav led Carlebach style service, Artist-in-Residence Marcus J. Freed created a moving meditation, and veteran Jewish singer/songwriter Sam Glaser led a camp-style services as well as a rocking havdalah.
In addition to the fun and excitement of the activities, the program delved into hot topics affecting Jewish young adults today. Friday night and Shabbat afternoon included talks on social entrepreneurship, career choices and how to find work, relationship issues, Israel, and health and healing. These well-attended sessions offered participants practical and relevant discussions.
And then there was the Saturday night show.
The upbeat rhythm of British reggae legend Pato Baton kept the crowd electrified. “I love Israel friends. I have been there two times,” said Pato, “Let’s pray for peace in the east.” The crowd thundered back with applause. Pato then sang a song about Jerusalem he wrote that evening.
As Director and creator, I was asked, “What is a British, born-again Christian reggae performer doing playing at a Jewish summer festival?”
I met Pato a few years back. He expressed his hope to connect with the Jewish community. Pato, whose career spans three decades, feels a strong spiritual bond with the Jewish people. In addition to his affinity and love of the Jewish people, reggae music is awesome festival music. We also knew based on past experience that a Saturday night concert at a music festival must be world-class, and Pato is exactly the type of consummate and talented performer sure to wow the crowds.
We were not disappointed and OMG did we have fun.
The universal “positive vibe” music connected on a deep level everyone packed into a converted, 50 year-old barn built by Zionist visionary Shlomo Bardin. Pato’s dynamic performance and by all accounts the highlight.
He hugged the audience with his enthusiasm and charisma.
Making a great camping and music festival was our dream ever since the early days of our winter festival. In creating the summer camp three years ago we bet that if kids love summer camp, so will young adults. Why would it be awesome? Because a positive Jewish environment which emphasizes Jewish unity would bring out the inner Jew in each of us, allowing us to freely express our Jewishness unhindered by the world we usually inhabit. And that is exactly what happened
SummerFest was a raving success. We thank the participants, staff and volunteers that helped make this weekend possible.
We thank our Media Sponsors, The Forward and LA Blueprint
We also thank our partner organizations: Academy for Jewish Religion, CA, American Jewish University, Beach Hillel, Birthright Israel, Brandeis Collegiate Institute, Cal Poly Pomona Hillel, Chapman Hillel, Fullerton Hillel, Hebrew College, IKAR, Israel Forever Foundation, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, MASA Israel, Pierce and Valley College Hillel, San Diego Hillel, San Diego Jewish Federation, Shabbat Tent, Six Points Fellowship, SoCal JSS, Temple Sinai of Glendale, The Jewish Connection, Tiyul B’Aretz, Tribe Magazine, UCI Hillel, UCLA Hillel, UCSB Hillel, USC Hillel, Virtual Citizen of Israel
We thank our sponsors Nefesh B’Nfesh, AEPi, Jewish Free Loan, American Jewish University, JNF, Jews for Judaism, JSpace.com, CSUN Hillel, CSUN Modern Jewish Studies
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August 3, 2012 | 3:52 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
While I did not have the privilege to join the 90,000+ Jews who filled the MetLife Stadium Wednesday night, this milestone in Jewish life cannot be underestimated.
The Jews have endured countless public burnings of the Talmud over the centuries since the first recorded incident in 1242 when twenty-four wagons of hand-written books totaling thousands of volumes were burned in Paris. Centuries of of more burnings ensued. Just 80 years ago, the Nazis collected and burned thousands of copies of Talmud. Many more thousands of copies of the Talmud burned in the synagogues, study halls, and homes during the duration of the Shoah.
Yet, the attempt to eradicate Jewish learning has failed. It may be that more Jews study the Talmud today than at any time in Jewish history.
Getting Daf Yomi, the daily study of a page (back and front) of Talmud a day, off the ground did not happen overnight. When Rabbi Moshe Shapiro proposed the Daf Yomi at the first World Congress of the World Agudath Israel in Vienna on August 16th 1923, it was greeted warmly, but it went against convention. Pages of Talmud are worlds unto themselves. There are a myriad of commentaries on every page, and deciphering and analyzing each section can take days, weeks, and at times months. Some greeted the fast paced study with skepticism because it was such a radical notion.
But since Daf Yomi was an effort in Jewish unity it ultimately has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations since Jewish tradition teaches that blessing comes from such efforts. People all over the world are thinking, discussing and struggling with the same text.
Rabbi Shapiro described the philosophy behind Daf Yomi this way:
What a great thing! A Jew travels by boat and takes gemara Berachot under his arm. He travels for 15 days from Eretz Yisrael to America, and each day he learns the daf. When he arrives in America, he enters a beis medrash in New York and finds Jews learning the very same daf that he studied on that day, and he gladly joins them. Another Jew leaves the States and travels to Brazil or Japan, and he first goes to the beis medrash, where he finds everyone learning the same daf that he himself learned that day. Could there be greater unity of hearts than this?
For many decades my teacher of saintly memory Rabbi Haskel Besser was the chairperson of the International Daf HaYomi Commission at Agudas Yisroel. The commission was tasked with promoting and spreading the Daf Yomi movement, and he spoke every 7 1/2 years at the annual Siyum HaShas. Sadly, he passed away nearly three years ago. Yet, he was recognized from the dias for his contribution to the movement.
Rabbi Besser had many reasons to promote the movement. One of his critical realizations was that for the average working Jews a 30-60 minute Talmud session every day would keep them interested and engaged. They would look forward to what was on the next page each day. Even if they themselves were not learned enough in Talmud study to decipher each page, they could follow along on this Talmudic journey alongside scholars. Thankfully, he lived long enough to see the websites, podcasts, videos, and multiple editions of the Talmud in many languages all geared towards daily Talmud study. The success of the Daf Yomi movement is a tribute to his vision and efforts.
The Daf Yomi movement should be an example and shake the foundations of Jewish institutions seeking ways to keep Jews Jewish. While 90,000+ Jews represent only a fraction of the American Jewish population, no other movement could ever succeed at drawing 90,000 Jews together for anything.
They should also see the power of Jewish learning. Being Jewish in and of itself without feeling attached to Jewish knowledge undermines efforts at stopping assimilation.
And finally, being Jewish because of heredity, a feeling, an allegiance to Israel, or an inherited set of values without attachment to some level of purpose, ritual and observance is ultimately going to fail to move the needle.
There is no reason that the Daf Yomi celebration this week needs to be the final exercise in Jewish unity until 2020. And God forbid, the next movement in Jewish unity should not be rallying for Israel during a war or crisis.
We Jews are a stiff necked people, says the Torah. Finding, promoting, and spreading a movement in Jewish unity, let alone a movement in Jewish learning among the vast majority of our people, will take time, effort and lots of money. But we see it works, so is it not worth a try?
For 100 millions dollars we could create a movement of accessible, relevant and unifying Jewish learning for those who are not learning Daf Yomi. We already see there is an interest in Jewish learning by the many websites that send out daily Torah study patterned on the daily learning of the Talmud. Clearly thousands of Jews are already involved. Is it not possible to foster a movement that brings together everyone in learning something together, every day, which builds Jewish unity and culminates in a celebration?
The grassroots movement of Daf Yomi and the celebration of finishing the cycle of learning of the Talmud inspires me to dream of what we could do and what we can achieve.