Lending some Jewish values to Israel's Midburn Festival

Fusing permaculture with Shavuot at the Israeli version of the Burning Man festival

At FIG’s ‘Shake the Dust’ retreat in Caesarea, which incorporated Feldenkrais (body movement), interactive sharing circles and meditation in preparation for Yom Kippur (photo credit: AVI NOO)
At FIG’s ‘Shake the Dust’ retreat in Caesarea, which incorporated Feldenkrais (body movement), interactive sharing circles and meditation in preparation for Yom Kippur
(photo credit: AVI NOO)
Paz Faigenbaum wants to bring water to the desert – specifically to the Negev during the Midburn festival.
Midburn, Israel’s answer to Burning Man, runs from May 28 to June 2 and attracts approximately 10,000 people. Begun officially in 2014 by a group of Israelis who wanted to bring the feeling of Burning Man to the Negev, Midburn becomes a makeshift city featuring large-scale art installations of every conceivable and inconceivable nature, communal collaborative living, psychedelic lights, fire and flowing creative expression.
However, Midburn is not simply a free-for-all of chaotic experience. There are 10 principles that define its code of conduct: radical inclusion, communal effort, gifting, civic responsibility, decommodification, leaving no trace, radical self-reliance, participation, radical self-expression and immediacy. It is the principle of “leaving no trace” that speaks to Midburn’s ecologically-minded ideals. Midburners endeavor to leave the desert exactly as they found it, if not in a better state upon their leaving. It is this reverence for the environment and the achievement of balance between body, mind and land that Faigenbaum aspires to on a daily basis with his work as founder of Food Integrated Gardens (FIG).
“My bigger vision is basically doing Jewish festivals in nature as a community of people who would like to connect in a different, more experiential, downto- earth way,” Faigenbaum explains. “We harness the spiritual fire and then come back together to do an optional permaculture project. For the Midburn festival, the project will be in the theme of Shavuot.”
He has been building his dual-component vision for the past few years and is now spearheading permaculture projects and hosting earth-based, Jewish festivals through FIG.
“I see it as holistic living,” Faigenbaum says. “Permaculture is not limited to food growing; it’s a way of connecting not only to self, but to others and to the landscape. It’s something that I feel strongly about in terms of social ecology and marrying the spiritual with the physical. It’s very much Jewish permaculture, bringing meaning into it and intention.”
Faigenbaum realized that there was great potential in Midburn, which is already a vibrant, ecologicallyvminded, spiritual community. He attended the first, unofficial Midburn in 2012. It was much smaller; a few hundred people gathered on the beach. He was impressed by the beautiful energy and creative expression.
Now that Midburn has grown exponentially, the potential for creating a permaculture experience infused with the Jewish holiday cycle has grown with it, especially since Shavuot is happening during this year’s Midburn.
“It’s a great opportunity to have the capacity to hold holy space in a place that’s already happening and where people want to connect in many different ways,” Faigenbaum adds.
“We want to offer another way to connect on Shavuot. It’s a big operation to go into the desert with all the food and transport shade structures. We will most likely be joining an existing camp that already has infrastructure in place, and will be offering a Shavuot event. We’ll be doing learning, experiential kabbalistic meditation, and talking about Jewish farming. I think that connection is very important, learning and connecting to Torah, and then on the second level, to have an actual practical project, which is creating a natural water pool in the desert.”
Faigenbaum’s Midburn water pool project is called “Water in the Desert.” He points out that Torah is water and that embedded in the “Water in the Desert” project is the idea of creating a vessel, a physical space, to capture the water in the landscape.
“It’s very relevant in Israel because it’s such a dry landscape,” he says. “There are a lot of spaces that are in need of either sculpting to capture water, or collecting water from rooftops. At the moment, it’s actually illegal to have rainwater tanks because the government wants control of water. I believe strongly that we need to learn how to collect water on a small-scale system. Water goes from a higher place to a lower place. It’s learning how to capture the higher waters from the heavens and hold them in the lower waters down below.”
In terms of Shavuot, Faigenbaum has plans for interactive installations such as a large Star of David and cut-out Hebrew letters big enough for people to actually climb inside. He hopes that people will participate in a meditative exercise by spelling out their own names on the ground. He explains that it’s a meditation of connecting to one’s essence and inner Torah.
“There’s a saying that if one person is unconscious and someone whispers their Hebrew name, it’s a way of awakening their soul. On Shavuot, we’re meant to stay awake all night, so it’s appropriate to meditate on your Hebrew name at that time. It helps to bring our purpose in life out into the world. Sivan is also a month of travel and dance. Sivan is associated with the tribe of Zebulun, the Hebrew letter zayin, and the left leg, which is Hod, or acknowledgment. We are acknowledging God and being able to receive. The legs are all about movement. We journey from Passover all the way to Shavuot through the 49 gates, reaching the 50th gate. It’s very much an inner journey.”
Faigenbaum will host a Shavuot seuda (festive meal) as well. Given the prevalent lactose intolerance problem amongst Ashkenazim, combined with Shavuot’s dairy theme, Faigenbaum and friends will offer many varieties of alternative cheeses, such as cashew and macadamia. In terms of the logistics of the “Water in the Desert” project’s natural pool, Faigenbaum wants to keep it simple.
There are two options being considered. The first involves 200-liter plastic drums commonly used for olive oil. Each person would have one to enjoy and sit in as a refreshing reprieve from the heat in the middle of the day with an umbrella on top. The second idea is to use a 1,000-liter tank that has a cage around it to create a natural pool of water.
“We need to see what’s most feasible and possible,” Faigenbaum adds. Festivalgoers are not allowed to spill water in the desert at Midburn, which limits the options for the project.
“There are multiple levels, both in the realm of permaculture and harvesting water,” he says.
“One is a rainwater tank and the other is a graywater system that creates a natural pool in the landscape. We won’t be sculpting in the earth, because that would permanently affect the landscape, which is not allowed.
We’re going to try to keep it simple and have a place where one can feel purified and refreshed. Then we hope that we can bring that concept back.”
Faigenbaum is still deciding where it will be, whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere, but he plans to replicate the “Water in the Desert” project by creating a natural rainwater harvesting system. He has secured funding to carry out the project.
“We’re going out to the desert for Midburn; the desert is where we received the Torah,” he reflects.
“I love the truth in replicating that. The desert is a complete blank canvas; it’s very nullifying and raw.
There is a certain intimacy that you can feel with God and an ability to receive. I’m excited to get that inspiration and to connect to nature to be able to receive on a deeper level.
“I see my project as connecting spiritually in order to move forward practically. The two go hand-in-hand.”
For more information on “Water in the Desert” at Midburn and other FIG projects, go to www.foodingardens.com