Frequently Asked Questions

GENERAL
FOOD-RELATED
RELIGIOUS
ABOUT PASSOVER

General

A: Everyone is welcome at Wilderness Torah events and festivals. We create pluralistic, multi-generational community celebrations to reconnect us to the earth-based traditions of Judaism.

We welcome everyone — Jews, people with other faiths and backgrounds, interfaith couples and families, the LGBTQIA community, people of color, people of all ages — anyone who feels called to join in our open tent. We do our best to offer a range of activities so that people of all backgrounds and experience levels can plug in. See below for more information on our religious observance.

A: Pets are not allowed at festivals due to wilderness rules and the desire to keep the focus on people and ritual space.
A: Wilderness Torah is a spiritual community and our festivals are family-friendly. Our primary goals are to build connections between ourselves, community, earth, and Spirit.

We will provide a modest amount of wine for ritual purposes. At Passover in the Desert, which is a ceremonial gathering, we ask that you refrain from bringing and drinking alcohol. Illegal drugs are never permitted at Wilderness Torah events.

A: Individuals are responsible for their own comfort and safety. It’s a good idea to bring your own basic first aid supplies for your convenient access (bandaids, alcohol wipes, etc.)

There will be a designated safety crew comprised of nurses, doctors, and people who are trained in Wilderness First Aid and as Wilderness First Responders. Wilderness Torah provides a comprehensive first aid kit on site for emergencies. The kit will be located at the Healing & Counseling Oasis.

A: Passover in the Desert is a remote wilderness experience—we recommend some camping experience and a level of comfort in the rugged outdoors. We build our village in a place where we can experience extreme weather, including hot and cold, and heavy winds and rains.

In the desert, there is no running water, which means no showers, unless you bring a solar shower or bucket. There are no indoor areas in the desert, however Wilderness Torah builds temporary communal structures to keep out the sun and at least some of the wind.

We have all of the village spaces, and also:

  • Hand-Washing Stations
    For everyone’s safety, wash your hands after every time you use the toilet, before each time you enter the kitchen, and before each meal. Stations will be placed near the hearth and toilets.
  • Toilets
    Portable toilets (port-o-potties) are available during the festival.
  • Water
    We will be providing a water truck for all communal cooking, dishwashing, and drinking. You may want to bring 1–2 gallons to keep at your tent for personal use.
A: For Passover in the Desert, you must be registered for the entire event. It is possible to register and attend only part of the festival, but we aim to create a tight-knit ceremonial community by having a cohesive community from beginning to end. For those participating in the overnight wilderness solo, in order for participants to experience the full benefit of the ceremony and to maintain the integrity of the village experience, we require solo participants to remain through the end of the entire festival.. Please join us for our entire village-building experience!

A: You need your own basic camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, camping mattress). We are happy to help you set up your tent.

You won’t need anything fancy like featherweight stoves or your own axe. Certain items are a must, like a sun hat and flashlight. Take a look at the packing list for more details.

A: No Need to Schlep Your Own Water. Wilderness Torah provides water for communal drinking and cooking purposes (you only need to bring ~2 gallons for personal use at your tent). Your registration fee includes the cost for this essential village resource.

Religious Practice, Halacha (Jewish Law), & Pluralism

Wilderness Torah creates a big tent filled with all kinds of people bound together by a connection to nature. We work hard to create spaces where people with a range of practices are welcome. Building pluralistic community is a fun challenge and causes us to think creatively about the meaning of our traditions and how we practice them.

While we strive to be as inclusive as possible, we also acknowledge that we cannot please everyone. Clarifying how we do things is an ongoing process and we appreciate your input.

People who attend our festivals and programs include:

  • Jews who identify by many denominations (Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Conservative, Modern Orthodox)
  • Many who identify as “Just Jewish” or “Jew-ish”
  • Those in the early stages of coming back to Judaism
  • Jews by choice
  • People who are not Jewish and are either married or partnered to a Jew, or are simply interested in the beauty of Judaism and what it has to offer

Here are some details about our religious observance so you can clarify whether Wilderness Torah is a match for your practices.

A: We strive to bring Judaism alive by making our ancient traditions relevant for today. And we give you choices on how deeply to engage by offering a variety of program options.

For example, during morning Shabbat services, you can choose from a celebratory musical service, and at times a traditional egalitarian minyan (when there is a sufficient interest), a group hike in the woods, or time on your own or with friends. Everything is optional and we hope you’ll experiment, as our prayer options can be very creative and powerful.

Our festivals are designed to allow for everyone’s individual practice as much as possible. You will find that some people use flashlights on Shabbat while some refrain. Some take pictures and some don’t. Some don’t know why this is even an issue. That’s great! Your own personal observance level may vary and that is fine.

We especially ask each participant to respect others’ observance levels. Also, if you are curious about someone’s observance, just ask! It’s a great time to learn in a supportive community.

A: Our festivals are pesca-vegetarian events, meaning food will be mostly vegetarian with some fish (which you may easily opt out of). On special occasions we may choose to serve a meat meal. When we do, we will ensure that it is kosher and completely segregated from our dairy and vegetarian kosher kitchen equipment.

In making its food choices, Wilderness Torah prepares food according to the highest ethical standards, including kosher, local, organic, seasonal, humane, and socially just. Wilderness Torah prioritizes sourcing fresh, unprocessed foods, and when choosing processed or packaged foods, aims to purchase certified kosher foods.

Wilderness Torah may at times prioritize certain values, such as local or organic, over kosher-certified. When such a choice is warranted, we will share such decisions openly, and a kosher option will be available. Examples:

  • We purchased local, homemade, organic bagels for Shavuot that were not kosher. We had kosher bread choices available.
  • Raw, local, organic honey was gifted to us. We had kosher honey available.

Our kitchen is kosher, however we do not employ a mashgiach (someone who supervises kashrut, the guidelines for keeping kosher). Please ask if you want more details on how we prepare and maintain kashrut in our wilderness kitchen.

A: Shabbat (Friday evening to Saturday evening) marks the seventh day of creation, the Sabbath, when we rest from acts of doing, making, and creating. We strive to make Shabbat comfortable to those holding the halacha(Jewish law) of Shabbat, while accommodating the spectrum of needs in the village.

We do not cook meals on Shabbat (we still prepare delicious food, however, and sometimes eat hot food prepared before Shabbat that is kept warm with special earthen heat retention technology).

To honor the spectrum of Shabbat observance, there will be instruments used for our communal Kabbalat Shabbat (the pre-Shabbat service that welcomes in Shabbat), but not for maariv (the service that occurs after Shabbat has begun) once Shabbat candles are lit.

Saturday morning we provide options for prayer to accommodate varying needs, such as an instrumental service, a traditional egalitarian service (when there is sufficient interest), a prayer hike, and free time to roam. We will end Shabbat when there are three stars in the sky by making Havdala (the ceremony that divides the holy day of Shabbat from the rest of the week).

A: Due to the rustic nature of living outside, we make certain halachic (Jewish legal) exceptions for the health, safety, and comfort of the community. For example, the kitchen prepares hot water during Shabbat for people to have warm drinks if they choose and to ensure that hot dishwater is available to maintain proper sanitation in the kitchen. We also provide hot water that was heated before Shabbat for those who observe.

We use a small generator to power a genius invention called a “cool-bot” that keeps our food fresh (it’s a homemade refrigerated trailer). We turn this generator off at night when it’s cool to save energy and so that we can’t hear its whir at night. This means that on Shabbat, we will turn off the generator on Friday night and turn it back on early Saturday morning, if necessary, to protect the food of the village.

On very cold Shabbat evenings, we reserve the option to build fire for the warmth and comfort of participants. We often wonder, how did our ancestors celebrate Shabbat when they were nomadic desert people? Although we have yet to build fire on Shabbat, we contemplate the halachic exception called Pekuach Nefesh (the exception for saving lives) and when we might invoke this to keep our village healthy during cold snaps in the wilderness. If this interests you, please come and speak to us about your ideas!

The village has a spectrum of observance. While one person observes all the mitzvot (commandments/opportunities for holy acts), others may not—so you will see flashlights, cameras, and other devices used by individuals during Shabbat. Wilderness Torah does not ask individuals to refrain from their personal practice—but simply to be aware and respectful of different approaches to holding the traditions.

A: Passover is both a time of liberation and a time of experiencing constriction. An important component of the practice of Passover is the observance of food restrictions that help us remember slavery and exodus.

We avoid chametz(leavened products made with barley, rye, oats, wheat, or spelt). The only bread served will be matzah unleavened bread).

There is an Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) custom to not eat kitniyot (grains, seeds, and legumes) on Passover. (Learn more about kitniyot below.)

Yet, Sephardic Jews, and many of our community, do have the practice of eating kitniyot on Passover. So, eating kitniyot is not, in itself, prohibited, but a custom that some hold.

We will cook with kitniyot and also serve non kitniyot dishes.

If you want to get involved with this adventure, have ideas about kitniyot or have any other suggestions or questions, please do not hesitate to email us.

More on kitniyot:
Kitniyot are grains, legumes, and seeds such as rice, corn, millet, buckwheat, beans, soy, green beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and mustard seeds that are traditionally not eaten by Ashkenazi Jews because of a prohibition set in the 13th century.

The prohibition on kitniyot relates to the practice of storing kitniyot in the same vessels and containers as chametz (the five forbidden leavened grains) or the potential to confuse products made with kitniyot for products made with chametz, which was a real problem back in the 13th century.

While this mixing is not such an issue with today’s food, it’s traditional for some to avoid kitniyot, but many choose to consciously include kitniyot in their diet during Passover. Still, for everyone in our community, our kitniyot table may serve as an opportunity for all to share in engaging with this tradition.

If you wish to bring and eat any foods that are not part of the Passover diet, please take care of yourself while respecting the needs of people observing the holiday’s dietary laws. It’s very important that you do not bring these foods into the kitchen area.

A: Chagim (plural of chag) are the holy days that fall at the beginning and end of the Shalosh Regalim (“three festivals”): Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot. During chag days, wwe observe special traditions such as transferring flame in the kitchen instead of kindling new flame, and making the festival kiddush (sanctification of the day with a blessing over wine).

Occasionally, we encounter challenging logistical situations where a festival may end during a chag. In cases where your traditional observance conflicts with such a schedule, please contact us to inform us of your needs, ask us questions, and think creatively so we can make the experience work for you.

A: The Red Tent is a mostly non-programmed space for women of moon-time (menstruating) age and older who are seeking tranquility and restoration. It is a place of renewal and quietude, and a place for spontaneous ritual to emerge.

In the tradition of our ancestors, and in response to what many of our bodies and spirits are calling forth, we seek to contribute to the emergence of a moon-time culture within our greater tribe and world. It was once known that the health of the whole tribe depended on women honoring their menstrual cycles.

The Talmud states that women are exempt from work on Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the Hebrew month) (Megilla 22b), which comes from an even older tradition in cultures across the world of moon tents that were places of restoration during women’s bleeding time.

We realize that this may be a new idea for some, and we ask you to share in the experience of what it feels like to have this space present in our community.

The Red Tent is not intended to “leave out” the men in our tribe. It is understood that for the health of the women AND the men, women must be supported in taking this time.

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About the Holiday

A: Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the end of Israelite enslavement. Beginning with the full moon of the Hebrew month of Nisan (15th of Nisan), Passover is the quintessential liberation festival celebrating the birth of spring. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, literally means “the narrow places.” Commemorating our Exodus from Egypt provides a powerful opportunity to free ourselves from the narrowness that enslaves us in our daily lives.

A: Passover is the first of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot). In ancient times, Israelites made a pilgrimage to the Temple to give thanks for harvests that we received from the earth. We planted barley seeds after Sukkot with the first autumn rain.

At Passover, Israel celebrated the ripening of barley, the first grain, by offering a special measure of barley called an omer. Passover begins the holy process of “counting the omer.” Between the second day of Passover (16th of Nisan) and the day before Shavuot (6th of Sivan), we undergo a 49-day spiritual accounting process. Counting the Omer follows our journey from liberation to the revelation we receive at Shavuot.

A: At Passover we recall our journey towards freedom and we envision our liberation—from enslavement in Mitzrayim (the narrows of Egypt) to the expansive freedom of midbar. Midbar, literally meaning desert and wilderness, can also be read as the place that speaks.

It is in the desert that we hear God’s voice, receive our sacred teachings, and undergo our deepest healing. The journeys of our ancestors who strode deep into the wilderness, Moses encountering the burning bush and Miriam finding the well of water that gave life to Israel as it began its wilderness journey, provide the inspiration for our own journey. When we journey to the desert wilderness for Passover, we too have Spirit to support us in the next step on our personal and communal paths.

Today, we draw from our ancestors’ wilderness journey. We make a pilgrimage, far from home, into unfamiliar surroundings to experience the holiday in its original desert

Testimonials

I am bringing home a greater sense of working and living with my higher self and connection to spiritual practice and community. I feel grateful to know Wilderness Torah community and these excursions exist as I continue to grow. Passover in the Desert brought together such wonderful folks, created a space in which anyone could share openly.
Passover in the Desert Participant