Burning Man meets Havdallah at synagogue in S.F.

The spirit of Burning Man is coming to Congregation Beth Sholom.

At 8 p.m. Dec. 20, the Conservative San Francisco synagogue will be transformed into a space of self-expression and artistic freedom during “Keep the Fire Burning: Elevating Everyday Spiritual Practice,” an event aimed at challenging the notion of what a religious institution can offer.

“We’re changing the environment to make it conducive to mellow but intense conversation,” said Beth Sholom Rabbi Micah Hyman. “Let’s just say we’re decking the halls with a different vibe.”

As part of the synagogue’s David Levinson Speaker Series, Jennifer Bleyer, founder of Heeb Magazine in New York City, will join Hyman for discussion. They will focus on new forms of Jewish expression and culture, while touching on Burning Man, the annual art and fun festival where crowds 50,000 deep flock to the desert in Nevada to burn “The Man,” a wooden statue representing conformity to “normal” life.

“Burning Man is an example of where young Jews are congregating to express their Judaism in nontraditional settings,” Bleyer said. “There are different venues where Jews are expressing their religion and cultural identity besides their traditional spaces.”

At Burning Man, for example, “Jews celebrate Shabbat, it’s in the middle of the desert and half of them are naked,” Bleyer said.

Following a Havdallah service and conversation, participants will scatter to different activities including yoga and meditation, rhythmic dancing in the sanctuary and “watching movies with a spiritual quality,” said Hyman.

“Revitalizing” beverages such as comfort teas and pomegranate juices will be served, he added.

Each activity is meant to assist people in the transition from holiness to their everyday lives, Hyman said. All ages are welcome to attend the free event.

“Our doors are open for people to not just see Beth Sholom, but view the synagogue as a space that goes beyond ritual life,” Hyman said. “Hopefully people will come who aren’t used to coming to synagogue. If you think this isn’t for you, then you’re wrong.”

“Keep the Fire Burning: Elevating Everyday Spiritual Practice” begins 8 p.m. Dec. 20 at Congregation Beth Sholom, 301 14th Ave., S.F. Information: (415) 221-8736.