Exile on Main Street
What Sundance, The Stones, and Shabbat Teach us About Bringing Light to the World
May the good Lord shine a light on you
Make every song your favorite tune
— from Shine a Light. The Rolling Stones
We are preparing for the 13th Shabbat Dinner during the Sundance film festival, January 20, 2023, in Park City, Utah. And since 2017, Shabbat Tent has organized a Shabbat Lounge during the Festival, bringing together up to 1,000 people for dinner, events, havdalah, concerts and conversations at our oasis of chill near Main Street.
Main Street in Park City is very far from Jerusalem, and not known for anything holy. It’s the largest film festival in the country, where 50,000 people converged for parties, celebrity watching, and even some movies.
I am asked often, what does a rabbi have to do with Sundance? Why are we spending time and resources creating a Shabbat space in the midst of all the craziness of Sundance?
We are at Sundance every year to bring the light of Shabbat.
In order to better explain I want to diverge and speak about one of my favorite albums of all time, the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street
Not only is the album a feat of musical genius, but the making of the album was the result of creativity and inventiveness required by exile. They recorded the album in a makeshift recording studio in a French chateau while the group were in exile from the UK over tax issues.
What is exile? According to Polish Chassidic philosophy, exile is fundamentally a spiritual designation, and not necessarily something negative. We can easily forget that exile is not necessarily bad.
Let me explain.
If the Rolling Stones had not been exiled from the UK, would they have ever recorded this genius album? No. The documentary Stones in Exile shows how this album would not have come to light without their exile.
Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky fled Russia. Kurt Weill, Heinrich Jalowetz, and of course Arnold Schoenberg fled Austria and Germany. Jean Helión, Marcel Duchamp, Nelly van Doesburg, André Breton, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Piet Mondrian... all of them created unforgettable works and influenced so many with their creative light after being exiled.
Add to this list of artists and musicians another list - leading religious scholars who fled their native lands only to have much more impact. The Rambam, Ramchal, Abarbanel in ancient times. The Imrei Emes and the Lubavitcher Rebbe in modern times. The impact they had on the world in exile was much bigger than had they stayed and somehow survived in Europe.
So while the exile they experienced was painful, unwelcome, and challenging, the world was forever enriched by the results. While they may have been physically separated from their homeland, as long as they remained connected to their creative source, they were able to bring light into the exile. In a sense they were not in exile anymore.
We see this paradox as well in relation to the Jewish people as a whole. In several places in the Torah, such as this week's Torah portion of Shemot, the Jewish people are compared to the stars. How are we like the stars? We are certainly not as numerous as the stars.
Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter wrote, Just as God made the stars to shine in the dark of night, God created the Jewish people to spread God’s light to the darkest places on earth.
The exiles that the Jewish people have experienced are difficult. They also have permitted us to bring light to many places.
So while we may be physically separated from God without a Temple, and so much fixing in the world remains to be done, as long as we are connected to our spiritual source, we are able to use this exile to spread light.
While the Stones physically were in Exile when they wrote the album, they were very much at home spiritually in their music.
While Sundance may be renowned for what I wrote about above, most of what Sundance is in reality, is the convergence of some of the most creative people on the planet for a week's time.
Robert Redford, who co-founded the festival, knew that to achieve the creative revolution that they envisioned, the Festival had to be far removed from the epicenter of entertainment that is Los Angeles. In other words, to unleash more creativity through the visual arts, the filmmakers had to go into Exile on Main Street, in Park City.
And that is a place that is perfect for Shabbat Tent to spread the light of Shabbat.
Shabbat teaches the world that we do not have to be slaves to work, but that work must be contained. During Shabbat we unplug from the work world, and from our devices, in order to plug ourselves into spiritually fulfilling pursuits which nourish our souls.
This is our mission at Sundance. During a global creative convergence, in exile in the snowy mountains of Utah, a place where people are thinking outside their box, they can experience Shabbat, and that can forever benefit their lives and the world.
May the good Lord shine a light on you and may all our exiles be for good, and an opportunity to spread light in the darkness.
See you in Park City!
If you would like to support this project, you can make a donation on our Shabbat Lounge during Sundance website. Thank you to all the sponsors and partners listed on the website that make it possible!
—> I would like to thank my friend and colleague Rabbi Mendel Schwartz of the LA’s Chai Center for introducing me to Sundance and bringing me for the first Shabbat Dinner he organized there.