When Guy Arnon and his wife Galia started producing the Boombamela festival, he didn't expect it to result in a bar mitzvah, especially not his own. The husband and wife team have been coming to Nitzanim beach for the past seven years for one of Israeli's best known and longest running beach festivals.
This year it attracted about 15,000 - 20,000 people, mostly secular Israeli teenagers and twenty- somethings for three days of music, swimming and a new age vibe over Chol HaMoed Passover. But Galia and Guy aren't the only husband and wife team on the beach.
A ten minute walk from the staff area is a large tented area with a brightly colored sign that reads Kfar Tefillah, or Prayer Village. Among the main organizers are Rabbi Nir Yaakov Mas and his wife Ita, hailing from the small Samaria hilltop community of Dolev.
Like Galia and Guy, they have also been coming to Boombamela for seven years, but as volunteers. Together with a seemingly random group of volunteers from Moshav Mevo Modiin, [the Shlomo Carlebach Moshav], Breslov Chasidim, Rabbi Kook aficionados and whomever else comes to volunteer, Kfar Tefillah makes sure that kosher-for-Passover food is readily available.
As rock music waifs in from a nearby concert stage, Guy, in charge of all advertising and publicity tells the story of his bar mitzvah on the beach at age 33. "I come from a family that doesn't love religion. They asked me if I wanted a bar mitzvah and I said no. I didn't want to learn anything. They did a bar mitzvah for me here with the Sefer Torah and candy and everything."
His wife Galia, manager of the festival says it was long-time Kfar Tefillah organizer Michael Golomb who organized Guy's bar mitzvah. "When Michael heard he did not have a bar mitzvah he was shocked. Afterward, he told my husband, now that you are a man, you will have a son. Two months later I became pregnant. Now we have a five and a half year old son," says Galia with a smile.
A long-time resident of the Carlebach Moshav, Michael Golomb seems to knows all the festival organizers and greets as many people, both friends and strangers, with a warm "chag sameach." Dressed in a large colorful kippah and long robe, Golomb looks, in the words of one Boombamela participant "Biblical."
"However you dress or whatever you eat, you're still a Yid," says Golomb, with his ever-present smile. He shares his philosophy on Jewish outreach. "You have to share a little light. If I have a tomato and I give it to you, then you have it and I don't. But if I have a candle, I can light your candle and I still have mine. We have to light all the little candles. If someone is in a hospital and you yell at them, they'll never get better. Laughing and joy has a lot more healing power than yelling. You may not dressed so tznius, but you can have a little taste of redemption. We were asked to be the chosen nation to light up the world and smile and give strength and say, yes, we will make it."
The festival organizers see no contradiction between the throbbing trance music with thousands of dancing secular youth and inviting Michael and his band of rabbis and musicians. In fact, they advertise the Kfar Tefillah area on their web site along with times for morning, afternoon and evening prayer as well as the Shabbat Torah service.
"We want to give the people more than just a vacation," says Galia, "but also have a spiritual option, so they can come and get advice. If they have problems, the doors are always open."
Guy has a similar view. "We are very aggressive in our need to accept everyone. You have to be violent or just not nice to deal with for you not to find a place in Boombamela. Every year they seem to want to cancel us because of something. Last year, because Chabad is here, the left-wingers wanted to close us down. Two years before, religious groups wanted to close us. But the courts say as long as it's not violent or racist it's OK. We are a platform. We just make the space and invite the people. All the rest is finding the weirdest and nicest and best things in the culture of Israel. We decide if
you come by the brightness of your eyes."
Rabbi Nir Yaakov Mas is dressed in his usual all white clothing with big white kippah, long black and gray beard and long peyos. He performs multiple duties at the festival, including leading a Thursday Chol HaMoed Torah service, a Friday night Shabbat service. Crowds of youth in their sandals and beach-wear crowd around him. He stands on a chair, towering over the crowd and leads the crowd in a powerful prayer service. During down-time he chats with whoever comes about whatever problems they may have. After the festival is over he personally helps clean up.
"I saw how Jews are thirsty." Rabbi Mas talks about the other tents at the festival featuring yoga, meditation and a plethora of new age options, called "shanti" in Israeli slang.
"I thought I could show them their home, and show them how deep Judaism is. Because I know they are really looking for the G-d of Judaism. I really think here at Boombamela we are creating a deep Jew. When I see someone going to another tent, I think he was a really holy soul and I am happy because I know he will eventually find himself. The prayers are coming from the heart. I've never seen a synagogue with such prayers."
Like the others at Kfar Tefillah he believes the clothes, or lack-there-of, don't make someone a bad Jew. "Here you have to learn to have eyes that don't look at the outside. It's just a costume. When you start talking to them you see what holy souls they really are. Maybe they have tattoos, but they also have good intentions. When we have the Torah service and someone wants to kiss the Torah, I never say, no." As the young men approach the prayer service, Rabbi Mas gives them a kippah and a prayerbook.
Chabad also has a presence at Boombamela. "People think they are coming to the Boombamela but actually they are coming to the Beit Chabad." Tzofit, a wife and mother from Jerusalem is dressed in a traditional head-covering and long dark skirt. It is her third year joining the Torah-observant Israelis who brave the secular party-goers for the sake of outreach.
The Beit Chabad to which she refers in this case consists of a large tented area. Behind canvas walls, men in black hats and their wives cook soup and stack boxes of matzah which they pass out to anyone that comes regardless of
"On the outside, people look like they don't have any connection to Torah or mitzvot," says Tzofit, "but Chassidut teaches that every Jew has a spark of G-d inside of him and if you light it up, it will become bigger and bigger and more revealed."
"They did not grow up in a religious family and here they have an opportunity to come and find holiness," says the Chabadnik. As the youth eat, a rabbi chats with them about the Torah parsha of the week.
Tzofit relates a Boombamela story. "About a week ago, a girl called me and said she wants to volunteer in Beit Chabad. She came a few years ago and became a baal teshuvah and now wants to help. She started here. When they come here, you see their faces start shining." She concludes, "you don't need to be a Chabad shaliach to bring the redemption closer. Every Jew has the power."
Not everyone at the festival is Israeli. Tourists and visitors come as well. A group of Jewish young adults from Uruguay also attended. At Kfar Tefillah, one can find people from Beit El, Maon and other places in Judea and Samaria, as well as a young man formerly of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, not too far away from where the festival takes place.
A smattering of non-Jews attend as well. One in particular is well known to Boombamela. Matias comes from Switzerland and is responsible for all decorations, signs, flags and layout. He has been to every single Boombamela since it began twelve years ago.
"Only love brought me here to Israel, love for this land." he says. "It talks to me very strongly." Secular and liberal, Matias nevertheless, like the rest of the festival organizers holds the Kfar Tefillah and Beit Chabad in high esteem. "Michael is the angel of the festival," he says, referring to Michael Golomb. "In all the production meetings he speaks and gathers energy. He talks straight to the people. He just has to be himself."
Matias personally planned the layout of the festival. Three weeks before the festival began, there was nothing but sand. "Now it is like a city," he says, referring to the sea of tents participants sleep in, the booths selling jewelry and CDs and the seven concert stages.
One of Matias innovative features is the wishing tree. Paper and peaces of cloth are set next to the tree. People are encouraged to write their prayer or wish and tie it to the tree for all to read.
Boombamela's seven music stages ranging from trance, reggae, middle eastern and rock. Most musicians are secular, such as Geva Alon, Libby Ran and Michael Greilsammer. A couple of religious-oriented acts perform as well such as Shivat Tzion, a young reggae band from Tzfat and Lazer Lloyd of Yood, a Chabadnik from Beit Shemesh that plays hard rock and blues.
The Kfar Tefillah people have a mini show of their own, which takes place right before Shabbat begins. This year it featured Fishy HaGadol, a secular rapper who recently became interested in religion after a trip to Uman, Ukraine to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Whereas his first album was about partying, the latest is chock full of Breslov and Chasdidic references. Both CDs are dancehall reggae and hip-hop in style.
As the music plays all night, back at Kfar Tefilah, volunteers cut vegetables for the thousands expected for Shabbat dinner. Naama, a student from Dolev is responsible for the kitchen. "The matzah is donated. 5,000 will eat Friday night. 2,000 for Saturday lunch," she says standing by the portable hot plates and boxes of donated tomatoes and cucumbers.
In keeping with Ashkenazi tradition, there is no kitniot. The cholent is without beans. "There isn't even any knedelach because we have no gebrocht in the kitchen (the matzah is not soaked in water)."
So why does Na'ama, a religious young woman come to Boombamela? "The real Israelis, the youth are here. I feel responsible to be here to cook so they can eat kosher food."
Avraham stands out from the teenagers he sits next to with his slightly greying beard. Born in America and living in Jerusalem, he talks about the origins of the festival twelve years ago as a true new age gathering into a more mainstream event.
"When Israelis get out of the army they are looking for something to fulfilling and so they go to India. They have these huge festivals and they brought the idea back with them. Mela means village."
Avraham continues to talk about why he's been coming back for the past nine years. "Shlomo Carlebach taught us go where there are the most Jews. Don't judge them. It's like being on the front line. This is Eretz Yisrael, the land of
"We have a sign in front stating that each person is invited to ask one question about Judaism. We get amazing questions, sometimes life and death situations. We need to realize, we're not going anywhere without all of our people. We can stay separate and holy amongst ourselves [religious people], but eventually it's about all of our people as a whole."
Note: All photos were taken on Thursday. Photo credit: Ben Bresky
Ben Bresky is a music critic and recording engineer living in Jerusalem. He is the host of the Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast on Arutz 7 - Israel National Radio.