Upcoming Sababa Fest Combines Music Festival With Jewish Tradition

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Two women participants, including one wearing a flower crown, at last year’s Sababa Fest
Participants at last year’s event (Photos courtesy of Mendel Sherman)

When Mendel Sherman conceived the idea of Sababa Fest while at a Wilkes-Barre yeshiva seven years ago, his goals for the music and Shabbat festival were modest.

If a couple hundred people showed up, had a good time and developed a sense of community, he would have been happy.

With that mission accomplished, Sherman, 26, is thinking a little bigger these days, while still keeping the community feel in mind.

The third iteration of the Jewish music festival — named after the Hebrew slang for “cool” — will take place June 20-23 in Honesdale in the northeastern portion of the state.

The first festival, which was held in Dingmans Ferry, drew about 325, while last year’s event, which moved to the current location, pulled in 525.

“This year, we’re hoping to pass that,” Sherman said, noting that some participants will be flying in to attend. “We’re hoping to hit 600 this year.”

Artists scheduled to appear include Marbin, Nechama Cohen, DJ Daddy, Tali Yess, Roy Baron, Brosky, Moe Lichter, JAKANI, Zalmy Schrieber and Binyomin Lerner.

A black and white photo of a concert from last year's Sababa Fest
The crowd enjoys a performance at Sababa Fest in 2018.

Sherman described headliner Marbin as a “gyspy jazz funk fusion” band out of Chicago, although its founders are Israeli. The DJs Roy Baron and Brosky are also expected to draw fans, he said.

Aside from the music, the festival is also a Shabbat experience. There will be a halachically kosher eruv, candle lighting ceremony for women, scheduled davenings with Sefer Torah, Chazanim, fully catered Glatt kosher Shabbat meals and a musical Havdalah ceremony. Music acts will not perform during Shabbat.

“The hospitality aspect of the week is a big thing for us,” Sherman said. “It really offers a platform for the Orthodox people.”

And there are events designed for those not necessarily into music.

The 20- and 30-somethings will be able to play Ultimate Frisbee/basketball/soccer, swim in a heated pool, kayak, participate in morning yoga classes, join interactive workshops — including tie-dying, team building, standup comedy and tzitzit tying — in the afternoon, partake in late-night bonfires, and sing and dance while welcoming the Shabbat queen.

“We really just try to incorporate a lot of elements,” Sherman said, noting that while plenty of singles attend the festival — and a couple that met at the first one has since married and had a child — “the main goal is to bring young people and the millennials together.”

Given that the festival lasts four days, various accommodations are available.

Although apartments are sold out, camping and cabin options remain. The cabins, which are segregated by sex, sleep up to 18 people.

The growing size of the festival has made logistics challenging, Sherman said.

“Every year, people say, ‘The more you do it, the easier it gets,’” he said, adding that his staff of volunteers and paid employees is growing. “I don’t agree with that.”

Sherman expects the event to continue evolving. Even if Sababa remains grassroots in nature, Sherman recently incorporated Sababa Fest as a nonprofit and will continue trying to break even, while looking to attract sponsors. The first Sababa accomplished that, but last year’s event lost a small amount.

Tickets and information can be found at sababafest.com.

[email protected]; 215-832-0797

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Andy Gotlieb is the managing editor of the Jewish Exponent. He holds 31 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too. Prior newspaper stops include the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Tampa Tribune and the Philadelphia Business Journal. The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various times, business, politics, crime and government, among other beats. The final 2.5 years in that stretch was an editor at the Philadelphia Business Journal, where my responsibilities included complete control over a weekly section and working with both staff writers and freelancers. In late 2005, I switched gears and began working in public relations for the next decade. I learned the ins and outs of public relations -- including being on the other side of the media-PR equation -- and made numerous contacts. I rejoined the ranks of journalism in March 2016, starting as the managing editor of the Jewish Exponent.

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