Coachella’s second weekend (April 22-24) for many Jewish people presents something of a dilemma: either draw your Bubby’s ire by blowing off her Passover Seder and matzah ball soup or drown your FOMO in bitter herbs and gelatinous gefilte fish while LCD Soundsystem, Guns N’ Roses and Sia blow up the desert fest. Thanks to a rabbi and a rapper, however, you may not have to make that tortured decision.
“We’ll be doing ten-minute Seders and distributing matzah through one of the Jewish artists who we work with a lot, Kosha Dillz,” says Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, who runs the Shabbat Tent, a structure that’s been providing spiritual and social comfort at music festivals to Jew and gentile alike over the past 16 years.
Like manna from heaven, the Shabbat Tent at this year’s Coachella is presenting Matzahchella, a 10-minute Passover Seder which will happen roughly every hour on both Friday and Saturday nights at a tent situated in the car camping area just past Coachella’s iconic Ferris wheel. Here, the youngest participant can ask the ceremonial four questions while all partake in the Seder plate, which includes Osem matzah (i.e. bland unleavened bread) charoset (a sweet mix of fruits and nuts), maror (a spicy horseradish mixture) and a lamb shank bone as well as Manischevitz grape juice.
“Myself and another artist named named Tesha from Israel are running the Seders,” says Kosha Dillz (a.k.a. Rami Even-Esh), 34, whose new album What I Do All Day and Pickle is being self-released on his own Oy-Vey! Records. The rapper has led similar Seders at Murs’ Paid Dues Festival and is planning to drive back to Los Angeles on Saturday to perform at Broke L.A. (formerly Brokechella), where he’ll lead another Seder before returning to Coachella that night. (Check out his Passover mix here.)
The genesis for this year’s Genesis story at Coachella began sixteen years ago at one of holiest of holy music moments: Phish’s millennial festival at the Big Cypress Native American Reservation in South Florida where the Shabbat Tent made its first appearance. The structure has since been erected at every Phish festival as well as at music fests like Bonnaroo, Langerado, High Sierra and the Gathering of the Vibes.
“We create an oasis of chill in the midst of the craziness of music festivals,” says the rabbi, who runs the L.A.’s Pico Shul and is the rabbi at the University of Southern California Hillel. “People can come connect, relax, hydrate, charge their phone if we have power, that kind of thing—it’s really a service and place for all festival goers.”
The makeshift synagogue’s stature has grown over the years with sponsors that now include the Alevy Family Foundation, the Emmanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies and David Schwartz and Family. In 2007, with the support of Matisyahu, the Shabbat Tent was able to mount a large-scale 1,600 square foot tent at the Langerado festival and feed more than 300 people.
It should be noted that the Shabbat Tent, with its guy lines and stakes, is not an official part of Coachella and is staffed entirely by “volunteers, people who love music and Shabbat,” the rabbi says.
As far as artists coming by the tent, the rabbi says they’ve had no such luck with any members of Phish, but Alex Clare was supposed to come there once — but there were technical difficulties with his set, so they brought food to him. When asked if Slash* had come by, the rabbi was unequivocal: “No, but he definitely should.”
*Slash, (a.k.a. Saul Hudson) of Guns N’ Roses, it should be noted, is not a member of the Tribe as is often ascribed.