The Man Is Burnt, But I’m Still On My Ash

shabbat on the playaSo all of my neighbors have returned safely from Burning Man with the usual starry eyes and “Oh, man, I can’t describe it, you just have to be there” platitudes.

It gets annoying, but I could be jealous. (For those of you have never heard of this naked, free-for-all, artistic, boundary-breaking, consciousness-searing, pyromaniacal party in the dust of a dry lake in Nevada, don’t ask me, ’cause I’ve never been. So catch up here instead.)

Some crazy girl from work invited me to go to Burning Man years ago when I was single, and I suspected it was only because I had the perfect vehicle (’85 VW Westfalia pop-top, with sink, stove and fridge. Did you ever have something coveted by other people who tried to create a false relationship with you because of it? That van was the only thing I’ve ever had like that.)

I remember thinking that packing in seven days worth of food and water to a parched pad of earth and taking Ecstasy with a bunch of super freaks wearing neon body paint sounded like a really good time, but the neurotic Jewish mother in me wouldn’t let me go:

Thousands of people camping together listening to techno music and setting big structures on fire? Sounds dangerous and stinky. Better to stay home and read a good book. Besides, sand in the hoo-hoo is hell.

I continued on this “no-way-I’m-gonna-party-with-a-bunch-of-crazies-in-the-middle-of-nowhere” vein for many years, but I’ve come to realize that I am one of the crazies. Or would like to be, anyway.

But it may be too late. I suppose I still could be the kind of person who might pack the kids off to their grandparents for a week, don a wig, put her husband in a skirt and head off for the desert. But it’s unlikely. Apparently, some people much braver than I actually bring their kids, which has the Jewish mother on high alert:

What kind of parent exposes their children to freaky stinky people with drugs and fire? Shanda!

For all my trepidations, I grok that an amazing sense of community develops over the course of the week, and that there are some truly sacred and fantastic moments that occur at Burning Man every year. Last year, Jmerica had its own mole in the pyrotechnical madness, describing Shabbat on the Playa led by Rabbi Menachem Cohen. For this year’s report on the dynamic, ecstatic Jewish presence in Black Rock City, please see Alexandra J. Weill’s account of Shabbat at the Black Rock JCC (and her participation in something called the “Critical Tits” ride) in J. this week and Robert Rabinowitz’s piece in Forward.

Hey! Jewish Mother! See? It’s not a chaotic, acid-drenched high art sexfest. It’s a nice place; lots of Jews.

Yeah, have fun with port-a-pottys and naked hairy guys. I know they’re your favorites.

Maybe next year, maybe not.

Photo c/o Tomas Loewy.

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