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Stay Up During Shavuot By Attending the Overnight DAWN Festival

Esther D. Kustanowitz is a Contributing Writer at the Jewish Journal. She previously was the Founding Editor at GrokNation.com. She is an experienced freelance writer and consultant specializing in social media, pop culture, grief and Jewish community conversation. She is frequently sought-after as a source on social media engagement and culture, and is known as a Jewish community social influencer.

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Esther D. Kustanowitz
Esther D. Kustanowitz is a Contributing Writer at the Jewish Journal. She previously was the Founding Editor at GrokNation.com. She is an experienced freelance writer and consultant specializing in social media, pop culture, grief and Jewish community conversation. She is frequently sought-after as a source on social media engagement and culture, and is known as a Jewish community social influencer.

The tradition of staying up all night on Shavuot to study Torah (Tikkun leil Shavuot) is getting a multi-track makeover this year with the resurrection of DAWN: An All-Night Cultural Arts Festival Celebrating Shavuot, created by Jewish arts and culture nonprofit Reboot. This year’s festival is being run in association with the Jewish Emergent Network (JEN).

Conceived in 2004, DAWN ran through 2010, until its founders became busy with other projects. But when the coronavirus hit, DAWN reemerged.

Before the pandemic, Reboot and JEN had planned big, non-Shavuot-related, in-person gatherings. Reboot was slated to run its Jewish Ideas Festival in March and JEN, its biennial (RE)VISION gathering, in June.

The DAWN festival, which will run from 7 p.m. May 28 through 6 a.m. May 29, (PDT), will be hosted on the live-streaming video platform Twitch. Participants can cross back and forth among the three tracks: Arts & Culture (curated by Reboot), Torah (curated by JEN) and an innovative musical track featuring musician John Schott. Each session reimagines one of the Ten Commandments.

As of the Journal’s press time, the list of sessions had not yet been finalized, but local presenters include writer/director Jill Soloway, comedian Moshe Kasher, actress Michaela Watkins, saxophonist Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, writer/director Rachel Fleit, singer Sally Dworsky, Nefesh Rabbi Susan Goldberg, writer/illustrator Christopher Noxon, comedian Heather Pasternak, musician Duvid Swirsky, and IKAR Rabbis Sharon Brous, Ronit Tsadok, Keilah Lebell and David Kasher.

Reboot Executive Director David Katznelson told the Journal that DAWN originated in a conversation with Reboot cofounder Rachel Levin, about how some Jewish holidays are highly celebrated, while others aren’t.

One panel at DAWN: An All-Night Cultural Arts Festival Celebrating the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot features IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous in conversation on “You Can’t Love God While Trampling God’s Image,” with Bishop Gene Robinson and Lisa Sharon Harper.

“I thought, we live in this Burning Man generation and what would it look like to celebrate Shavuot with people who might have never thought of it before — putting together a program that’s as much fun as you can have and [explores] the stories and themes of Shavuot at the same time? You’d have an amazing experience and be enlightened.”

He added that Francine Hermelin, Reboot’s chief network officer, suggested they bring DAWN back. “In this moment in time, when there are so many people at home looking for some sort of connection to a core and inspiring moment, the Jewish tradition has this incredible event that celebrates the Ten Commandments, Ruth, women’s empowerment, social justice, environmental justice,” Katznelson said. “Why not put something together that kind of dives into that, using arts and culture to shape this moment?”

JEN had been simultaneously discussing its Shavuot plans, said Jessica Emerson McCormick, director of JEN’s rabbinic fellowship. She added that partnering with Reboot on DAWN was “a great way to bring us together immediately to work on collaborative, text-driven content.”

Reboot defines itself as an “R&D platform for the Jewish world” and a network catalyst to “evolve the Jewish conversation and transform society.” One recent Reboot-powered experience was this year’s April 11 Saturday Night Seder, which raised more than $3 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund. JEN is a collective of seven path-breaking U.S. Jewish communities that work collaboratively with IKAR in Los Angeles, Kavana in Seattle, The Kitchen in San Francisco, Mishkan in Chicago, Sixth & I in Washington, D.C. and Lab/Shul and Romemu in New York.

Arts and culture track sessions include music, yoga, a Shavuot cooking class, a sunrise sound bath, meditation, a live episode of the “Kasher vs. Kasher” podcast and “jokes, stories and commandments” from Carl Reiner and Normal Lear, produced by Silver Screen Studios.

Over on the Torah track, JEN’s rabbis and leaders will present various text-based sessions including the commandments to not murder or commit adultery, McCormick said. The rabbinic fellows also will offer short sessions including “palate cleansers to refresh and stretch, and bring in their own fun talents,” she said, as well as bullet journaling, learning about coffee from a Jewish perspective, poetry, breathing and cocktails.

“We live in this Burning Man generation and what would it look like to celebrate Shavuot with people who might have never thought of it before —  putting together a program that’s as much fun as you can have and [explores] the stories and themes of Shavuos at the same time?” — David Katznelson

Another JEN session features a conversation with Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering,” and Rabbi Shira Stutman (of Sixth & I).

Katznelson, a Grammy-nominated producer and former vice president at Warner Records who still owns his own record label, admits he’s most excited for the musical performances. They include the track devoted to Schott performing “Eight Hours ’Round Midnight,” a piece Katznelson commissioned in 2004.

Invoking the Jewish practices of textual commentary, interpretation, midrash and intertextuality, Schott will use Thelonious Monk’s 1944 composition, “Round Midnight,” as the basis for an all-night improvisatory “study session.” Katznelson also highlighted the forthcoming new score to accompany producer-director Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” (1956) being created by Berlin, Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips and musician Scott Amendola.

Kasher, who was on the Reboot faculty for a few years and attended past DAWN events as a participant, told the Journal, “We who are immersed in rich contemporary culture want our Jewish offerings to feel exciting, beautiful, hip and stylish in the way that the rest of our cultural artistic lives do. Reboot is amazing with aesthetics and we could always use some more of that sensibility in the Jewish world.”

In addition to co-hosting Reboot’s “Kasher vs. Kasher” podcast, he also is presenting with Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu on the commandment of “Thou shalt not covet.”

Although both organizations have had to go online because of the pandemic, their respective leaderships share the desire to move back to offline events when it’s safe.

“Folks all over the country are going through new collaborative processes,” McCormick said. “I think this kind of content will not just fill a need in the immediate future, but will lead to long-term innovation in the Jewish learning space. There’s an exciting element to that, even though it’s born out of crisis.”

Because technology is so integral to gathering in the COVID-19 era, “Physical and online content will be forever merging and evolving,” Katznelson said. “The future is unwritten. The best we can do is seize the moment in the best way we can and learn from our successes and failures.”

Information on DAWN is available at here.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Rabbi David Kasher had been a JEN fellow. 

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