NOT DESERTED IN THE DESERT
Rabbi Daniel Bortz, known as the Millennial Rabbi, and I recently had an animated conversation about Jiu Jitsu, Shabbat, and Coachella—three words that I never would have guessed I’d ever use together in single sentence. Daniel is an avid student of what he calls “Brazilian Jiu [Jew] Jitsu.” His tongue-in-cheek play on words is actually a profound comment on mixing traditions within spirituality. He doesn’t find the martial art to be out of line at all with his deep Judaism; instead, he finds it deeply nourishing and complementary to his religion. He admits to enjoying breaking the stereotype of what people think of when they think rabbi or Judaism: “I want to show them there is no box. Yes, there is structure to Judaism, there are things we follow, like kosher and Shabbat, but to me, these are all vehicles for greater meaning. And within that structure, there is so much room for creativity. Anything we do we can learn a lesson from it. Everything you do you can connect to God or elevate the experience.”
After becoming a rabbi, Daniel put this idea into action, creating a nonprofit focused on inspiring teens to realize their potential, based on relatable Jewish wisdom. JTEEN of San Diego empowers its members by giving them a voice and a community to explore self-expression—from fun fellowship events like hiking to an entrepreneur program and an award-winning honors knowledge series. JTEENs also learn to extend outside themselves through seva-type activates such as feeding the homeless and families in need.
Full of creative ideas, Rabbi Daniel then started a Friday night Shabbat service that includes breathing and sound therapy. He told me, “I want to tie in the ideas we’ve had for thousands of years but do so in a more relatable modern way.” For those of you asking, “Huh? What’s Shabbat?” here’s a quick synopsis: Shabbat is a day of rest and celebration that takes place each week starting on Friday evening. And it is awesome. Since in Judaism, days begin at sundown, not at midnight, on Friday evenings, people who practice Shabbat begin celebrating its coming at sunset. Depending on the type of Judaism, people will refrain from certain activities (and do other special things) to honor the day until Saturday’s sunset.
Now back to Rabbi Daniel. Since Shabbat is so spiritually nourishing, it’s not the kind of thing you want to miss if, for example, you happen to be headed to the Californian desert for Coachella, officially known as the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. No worries, you will not be deserted in the desert, because Rabbi Daniel’s got you covered. At his Coachella Shabbat Tent, he will hook you up with refreshments, shelter from the sun, kiddush and challah. If you ask nicely, he might even help you learn a little Jiu Jitsu between music acts.
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Excerpt of Rabbi Daniel's story from Spiritual Rebel: A Positively Addictive Guide to Finding Deeper Perspective and Higher Purpose by Sarah Bowen. Get book.