Passover In The Desert: Jews Trek to Mojave For A Visceral Holiday
(RNS) More than 3,000 years ago, the Israelites escaped bondage in Egypt and made themselves into a nation in the Sinai Desert. This Passover, a group of their descendants will camp in California's Mojave Desert to viscerally experience the story of liberation.
Passover celebrations typically involve a ritual Seder meal in which participants recount the 10 plagues visited on the Egyptian oppressors, God's parting of the Red Sea, and the Israelites' 40 years of desert wandering as chronicled in the Book of Exodus.
But for some Jews, there is a more intense Passover experience to be had -- one that requires them to leave their smartphones at home and head for terrain much like that of the Sinai Peninsula.
"While it's important to tell the story of Passover at the Seder table, we offer the opportunity to have a 'felt' experience of Passover," said Zelig Golden, who is organizing the sixth "Passover in the Desert" this year for the Berkeley-based Wilderness Torah, which aims to meld nature and Jewish spirituality.
The desert, Golden said, is a place where "we can get in touch with our personal liberation and where we can connect with the natural world. It can open our hearts to spirit."
More than 100 Jews of varying levels of religious observance have signed up for "Passover in the Desert" this year. Starting next Thursday (March 28), they will live for four nights and five days as part of a makeshift village centered around a Tent of Meeting, an open air structure that takes its name from the one the Israelites built in the wilderness.
Participants -- who in past years have ranged from preschoolers to octogenarians -- will ritually cleanse themselves in a canyon river, venture solo into the wild as Moses did, and pray for deliverance from the burdens of their modern lives.