Judaism Unbound Episode 78: Burning Man - Jon Mitchell, Allie Wollner


What is Burning Man? [1] Why might it be particularly relevant for those who are thinking about the present and future of Judaism? Dan and Lex are joined by guests Jon Mitchell [2] and Allie Wollner, [3] longtime "burners" who help us think about those questions and many others. This episode is the first in a three-part series on Burning Man, which will continue with Judaism Unbound's next two episodes.

(0:01 - 15:42): To begin the episode, Mitchell and Wollner walk listeners through what exactly Burning Man is. [4] They also talk about some parallels between the yearly ritual of Burning Man and elements of Jewish tradition. Going even further, they engage with the question whether Burning Man might be meeting Jews' spiritual needs even more effectively than events like High Holiday services. [5] Wollner gives an overview of Milk + Honey, [6] a camp at Burning Man that identifies as "Jew-ish," hosting hundreds of Jews (and hundreds of others) every year.

(15:43 - 33:15): What are some of the elements of Burning Man that make it particularly meaningful? The two guests take on that question while providing further details on the evolution of Burning Man over time. They also look at the growth of Burning Man in Israel, how dynamics of class relate to the annual experience, [7] and the role that art and creativity can play in Burning Man's contributions to the broader world.

(33:16 - 42:09): Mitchell discusses one of the most straightforward parallels to Judaism that exists at Burning Man -- its Temple, a central structure designed for attendees going through experiences of grief and release. [8] Wollner expands on how and why it is such an emotionally powerful place for many who flock to it. To close the episode, Wollner returns to the topic of Milk + Honey, encapsulating a few of the reasons that it proves meaningful for its camp members (called "honeys"), and Mitchell encourages listeners to check out Burning Man for themselves in the future! [9]

[1] For a video that provides a general overview of Burning Man, watch "18 OMG Things You Didn't Know About Burning Man" (available below).

[2] Jon Mitchell is the publisher of the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, and the Burning Man website. For his bio, click here. For a reflection he wrote about his Jewish observance at Burning Man a few years ago, read this piece he wrote, entitled "Who By Fire?"

[3] Allie Wollner is a writer, educator, and community builder. For her full bio and website, click here. For two articles she has written about her experiences at Burning Man, check out "Seife: A Story of Redemption and Soap" and "Ritual Principles of Milk + Honey, Purveyors of Radical Shabbat Since 2008." 

[4] For more information about Burning Man, visit its website. To read its ten core principles, click here.

[5] Wollner mentions a master's thesis, written by Becca Grumet on Judaism at Burning Man. Entitled "Doing Jewish at Burning Man: A Scholarly Personal Narrative On Identity, Community, and Spirituality,"  you can access it by clicking here.

[6] Learn more about Milk + Honey by visiting its website.

[7] For a piece exploring the economics of Burning Man (its emphasis on gifting and de-commodification along with the economic forces that affect who is able to attend), click here.

[8] For an essay exploring the Temple at Burning Man from a religious studies perspective, we recommend "Temples on Fire: Deserts, Dust, and Destruction" by Sam Berrin Shonkoff.

[9] For a video that shows you a bit of what Jewish life at burning man looks like, see "Jewish Life at Burning Man," by JTA's "The Wandering Jew." (Available on the right).