Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
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.
Portable toilets (port-o-potties) are available during the festival.
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.
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.
Religious Practice, Halacha (Jewish Law), & Pluralism
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
About the Holiday
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.
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
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.