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Jewish group spends Passover in the Mojave

The community tent, which shelters participants in the Passover Seder in the desert, held for 16 years now in the Southern California desert.
The community tent, which shelters participants in the Passover Seder in the desert, held for 16 years now in the Southern California desert.
Michael Chusid

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Passover, the observance of the Jews’ escape from Egypt, starts tonite. Most Jews observe it in their homes, but three or four dozen will be gathering, instead, under a tent in the Mojave. They call it the Joshua Tree Passover Village, and the idea, for these Jews, is to get back to their historic and religious roots. (Audio: KPCC’s John Rabe talked with two of the organizers: Michael Chusid has been doing it for six years and Marc Weigensberg was there at the start, 15 years ago.)

Marc Weigensberg writes on the Web site:

At the core, we Hebrews are an indigenous tribal people. We know the experience of living on the land, it’s in our bones, the avanim of our ancestral collective unconscious. When I tell Westernized Jewish friends about our Joshua Tree Seder, and they say something like: “But we’re Jews, we don’t camp!”, I feel sadness for the level to which the 2,000 years of our peoples’ history of exile and oppression has disconnected some of us from who we truly are as a people. So to reclaim our truth, it seemed just natural (no pun intended) that we had to head back into nature.

The boulders and rock formations of our Joshua Tree group campsite form an amphitheater in the shape of the Hebrew letter Chaf, which holds us in it’s blessed palm and carries us through our weekend of prayer and ritual. Our youth scamper up and down the rocks like young rams, free of the constrictions of the city. We feel the afternoon winds blowing into camp from the West as the desert begins to cool, recognizing it for what it is – the breath of Raphael the Healer.

While we have experienced rain, wind, hail, and snow, more often we share pleasant, warm/hot sunny days in April, with the desert blooming with Yucca flowers and all colors of wildflowers. Cloudless nights are filled with countless stars, and the bright moon rises sometime in the night, cresting the surrounding wall of rocks to light up the entire desert floor.

We have been visited by many of our Living Being relatives – ground squirrel, desert tortoise, snake, coyote, birds of all sorts with their songs, and many, many others. We incorporate the Stone Beings and the Sprouting Beings into our rituals, along with full acknowledgement and incorporation of the Four Elements. Our youth are taught to build and manage fire, to blow shofar to call the community to ritual circle gatherings, and we re-learn to bless each other with water sprinkled from copper basins and to anoint with oil. We enwrap ourselves and delight in the Nature all around us, of which we feel completely a part.