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Pop Up Shabbat!

A Portable Friday Night Jewish Service ... Reminiscent of Days of Old

By Lynn Wexler

Las Vegas is home to a Pop Up Art House, Pop Up Weddings, Pop Up Events, Pop Up Homes, Pop Up Retail, and even Pop Up Pizza!

So why not a Pop Up Shabbat?

“Huh?” you say?

Shabbat, after all, is regarded as the Jewish holy day of rest and the communal rituals of prayer and gathering. It begins at sundown on Friday evening and concludes at sundown on Saturday night, with services generally held in a synagogue, temple or shul.

How does anything that Pops Up fit into this traditional observance?

The concept of Pop Up establishments – flash retailing or hipster shops as they are alternately termed - began in the 1990s in large urban areas like Los Angeles, Tokyo, London and New York City.

The trend refers to optimizing vacant space by offering it to vendors who in turn hold events, or sell merchandise or food, that are here today and gone tomorrow (though in some instances they stick around for a week or a month).

Pop Up Goers find the impermanent, immediate and diverse nature of the Pop Up experience to be exciting and unique over establishment lifestyle choices. No surprise then that Pop Ups are influencing the retail world; rethinking traditional brick-and-mortar outlets; and becoming increasingly POP-ular.

Enter cantorial soloists Jessica Hutchings from Congregation Ner Tamid (CNT) in Henderson and her counterpart, Heather Klein from Temple Sinai (TS) in Summerlin.

This dynamic duo teamed up to brainstorm and organize what seems to be the novel idea of a portable Friday night Shabbat service. Both congregations will close their temple doors on April 21st to instead offer a first-time ever Las Vegas Pop Up Shabbat, under the stars, just outside the historic El Cortez Hotel in ultra-hip downtown Las Vegas. Congregation P’nai Tikvah will participate as well.

Hutchings and Klein are both “excited and invigorated by this first community-wide all-inclusive effort outside of the synagogue building to create togetherness as Jews, centered around Jewish music and traditional prayer, as transformed through the lens of the modern reform movement.”

Their ambitious effort to enable portable Judaism is a familiar theme throughout the nomadic history of the Jewish people. Judaism has never been confined to a stay-at-home (or synagogue) religion. The Jews have always been a transitory people, traveling with their traditions since the beginning of their collective existence… wandering in the desert for forty years. Jews have had many homes. All of them have proved, sooner or later, to be temporary.

The Torah (Old Testament) tells the stories of the wandering and displacement, exile and return, of the Jewish people. Their dispersion to the four corners of the globe is a unique occurrence in human history, as is their surviving amid the destruction of the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires, Russian pogroms, and Nazi regimes, all while maintaining their distinct religious identity.

From the fragile harvester’s huts of the autumn festival of Sukkot, to the tabernacle (portable dwelling place for G-d) that the Israelites carried with them in the wilderness, to the perilous Shabbat services eked out of scraps and ingenuity in the Holocaust concentration camps - the Jewish people have never depended on permanence for their faith; but rather carried it in their hearts, always able to reenact their traditions wherever they are and whenever they need.

“We really wanted our first Pop Up Shabbat to be a fun, inspiring and memorable communal celebration open to all in the Jewish community. That’s why we’re bringing Jewish Rock Star Noah Aronson and his band from New York to sing his famous Jewish tunes throughout the service and the Oneg [the celebratory song, dance and food that follows],” says Hutchings. “Having Noah join us, elevates what promises to be an already uplifting experience.”

“Jessica and I, along with Rabbi Sanford Akselrad (CNT) and Rabbi Malcolm Cohen (TS), will co-lead the service with Noah,” says Klein.

Aronson is a soulful, energetic composer and performer, known for inspiring spiritual communities across the U.S. with his creativity, musicality and playful spirit. Renowned for his engaging style of prayer leadership, he led over 5,000 people in Shabbat worship at the 2013 Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in San Diego, CA.

“We’re aiming to remove all the excuses…all the obstacles that keep people from attending services and connecting to community. We’re outdoors, under the stars, with no synagogue affiliation required to attend. All denominations – and even those not affiliated with a denomination – are welcome,” says Klein.

“Downtown Las Vegas is a great draw for young couples, singles and teens. But families and seniors will love it just as much. All are welcome to this out of the box Shabbat celebration of music, prayer, dancing, food, and togetherness! The event is free and we’re expecting upwards of 350 guests,” adds Hutchings.

Hutchings and Klein covered all the bases. For a nominal charge, buses from both Congregation Ner Tamid and Temple Sinai will transport those who do not wish to drive to and from downtown Las Vegas on a Friday night.

A strong security presence will also be on site, consisting of security guards and metro police officers. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) appealed to the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center (Fusion Center) which monitors the Strip with an intricate system of security cameras.

“That night, the Fusion Center will turn their cameras to monitor our event,” says Klein.

Jewish Nevada, the Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada, the IAC (Israeli American Council); and El Cortez owners (the Epstein family) have all contributed towards making the event a success.

Klein and Hutchings have their spiritual finger on the pulse of an ancient idea whose time has come in the modern age. Pop Up Shabbat represents a fresh approach for Jews from all backgrounds and levels of knowledge to individually and creatively experience G-d, prayer and community on their own terms… an old-fashioned idea disguised as a hip new concept intended to reopen an ancient pathway to Jewish connection and identity.

The Pop Up Shabbat service and Oneg are from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Registration is required and can be accessed by visiting www.jewishnevada.org or by calling 702-732-0556.

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