Daybreaker, the popular early-morning (we’re talking 6 a.m.) dance party series for millennials that occurs every six weeks at a secret location, got religion last week. Sort of.
For the first time, the series — where participants trade in the usual late-night-party alcohol for pre-work cold-pressed juices and fruit-infused water — took place at a synagogue. And at dusk.
“We wanted to launch Dusk in a place that felt really epic and sacred, and that blended the worlds of spirituality, meditation, consciousness, dancing and going out on a night on the town,” Radha Agrawal, who co-founded Daybreaker in 2013 with partner Matthew Brimer, told The Jewish Week.
That “epic and sacred” space turned out to be the elegant and ornate Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue, where last Thursday night 700 people dressed as if they were extras in a new production of “The Great Gatsby.”
Turns out that Agrawal had been talking to Seth Cohen, the director of network initiatives at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which partnered in Dusk.
“They were trying to figure out how to get millennials to the synagogue,” Agrawal said, “and we thought what if we do it in a synagogue? That would be the perfect marriage of spirituality and nightlife.”
It’s a message that resonates with Rabbi Allison Tick Brill, assistant rabbi at Temple Emanu-El.
“The goals of Dusk are consistent with the goals of Jewish practice, which are to create community, encourage mindful living, and facilitate spiritual experiences,” said Rabbi Tick Brill, 28, who was taking in her first Daybreaker event.
“What captures our imagination about Daybreaker is the way it blends ritual and community in an inspiring and engaging way,” Seth Cohen, 42, senior director of the Schusterman Foundation told The Jewish Week. “We need these experiences of neo-ritualism to reconnect us with a sense of discovery that we need and crave,” said Cohen, who added that he anticipates other collaborations with Daybreaker going forward.
Dusk began at, well, dusk, when it was revealed to the throng gathered at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street that their destination was the city’s grandest synagogue. Inside the cavernous sanctuary, would-be Jay Gatsbys and Daisy Buchanans sat quietly with their eyes closed as a young woman chanted a meditation in hypnotic whispers, asking everyone to “invite the harmony.”
A bell was sounded to signal the transition into something new. And a gospel choir, followed by other singers and musicians, marched through the space leading the crowd to a downstairs area that had been transformed into a 1920s soiree meets electronic funk dance party.
Fitting the “dry” rule of Daybreaker events, Friday night’s theme was Prohibition. The bar was stocked with fresh-pressed juices and sugar-free sodas, and there were baskets filled with gluten-free cheese puffs stationed next to hot mini-pretzel nuggets. Kale tofu salad was handed out in iced coffee cups with a choice of salad dressings and hot sauces. There was a brass band, a beat boxer-violist duo — all part of the sweaty, three-hour dance fest.
The crowd, a mix of Daybreaker regulars and novices, included mainly hipster, creative types: musicians, artists and performers. One young millennial, decked out in a ’20s feather headpiece, had been to a number of the Daybreaker events and drew some connections: “Having it in a synagogue makes sense,” she said. “It’s a spiritual experience. There’s actually a large group of people here who are part of a vegan organization and focus a lot on spirituality and self-reflection, so it fits really well.”
A friend of hers who was a Daybreaker newbie said she had been converted: “After this I would definitely wake up early for the morning ones.”
Daybreaker events end with (what else?) a group hug, and the reading of an “intention,” New Age-speak for a commitment to take action. And so Radha Agrawal brought the evening to a close by reading from the evening prayer, “Let there be love and understanding among us.”
And the ravers filed out of the sacred space. Daybreak was still eight hours away.