Wilderness Torah when I went to an event of theirs and was delighted to find a group of Jews who were motivated by their spiritual connection to the environment, social justice, and yes, patchouli. Thinking I'd come into the office a few times a month and organize files, I was instead drawn into the Lev, or organizing committee, of the Passover in the Desert festival. Through this, I got to help organize and carry out one of the most beautiful, emotional, quiet, and deep experiences I've had.
So what happens when a group of Jews go wandering in the desert? Here's a summary:
- fierce, unrelenting winds and dust uninhibited by tall buildings and powerful warm rainstorms and snow which was evaporated by a hot desert sun the next day
- teams of just as unrelenting volunteers creating colourful, blanket-adorned shelters that welcome attendees into an otherwise naked landscape
- a loving kitchen team that filled our bellies with passover-kosher home-made pickles, massaged kale salads, vegan matzoh ball soups, stewed dried figs, matzoh brei, sweet and hearty quinoa, healing teas, matzah tiramisu, fresh and nourishing fruits and almond butters which kept us hydrated, joyful and able to immerse ourselves in the wonder of the desert
- a slow weaning away from time, schedules, emails, phones, where we were instead defined by drums and fire dancers, prayer and laughter, sharing feelings and emotion, more sharing, and more sharing (we are hippies after all), where we were called to meals by the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn) and greeted by guitar and dancing
- learning about passover, counting the olmert (don't ask me to explain it), LGBTQ issues in Judaism, the BDS movement of Jews in the US, and how to make Passover really, really tasty
- Hearing about Rock, the one resident in the Panamint Valley ghosttown of Balarat who sells beer for a dollar out of a cooler in his house and likely burned down a mining camp about 20 years ago for reasons unknown
- snakes, scorpions, birds, ants and packs of wild, wandering burros (don't mess with them)
- hugs, dancing, cuddle piles, singing, freestyle beatboxing (by yours truly), incredible new friends and connections and a team of inspirational leaders to work with in putting on this amazing festival.
- a stillness nearly impossible in the rush of the city and the race of our lives
And so I returned from the timeless inspiration of the desert, changed not monumentally, but in small ways. Am I more religious? Not so much. But I do feel so very hopeful and inspired that there are Jews like me who believe strongly in our cultural tradition's connection to the land. Thank you Panamint and thank you to the incredible families, elders, youth, teachers, students and organizers for what is one of my most memorable experiences.