I feel so alive. Returning from 5 days on a small farm on the pacific coast at a festival called Sukkot on the Farm, I am transitioning slowly back into every day life. Something truly amazing happened this weekend, that has left me feeling reawakened and brimming with joy and love. It is a magical experience to stumble into a gathering of people who want only to better the world by channeling spirituality and loving each other fully! It was refreshing and so heart opening to be welcomed unconditionally into this tight knit community of people my age - all who found their own path that brought them to Jewish spirituality and Wilderness Torah, so genuine, honest, real, and unashamed to love God and pray to nature! I am re-connected to myself, to my people, to the land that nourishes us, and I am rejuvenated with motivation to protect and nurture all of the above.
Wilderness Torah is an organization that is building community to bring bath an Earth-based Judaism. This was my first experience finding Judaism completely on my own, independent of family or social obligations, and I found it in this context to be overwhelmingly meaningful. I have come to my own spiritual practice over the last few years, though it has been completely separate from my Jewish background, based in gratitude, meditation, and belief in a higher power that exists through love, joy, and the one-ness of everything. I was so gratified and amazed to discover that as I dove back into Jewish practice full on, all of the lessons that we discussed in teachings and torah studies, all of the intentions of prayer and values at their core were the same as those I have created for myself, thinking that I was forging a new spirituality for myself.
Two of the major themes of the program were Joy and Water. Joy, because Sukkot marks the end of the Jewish season of repentance and the beginning of the season of Joy, Zman Simcha. Water, because Sukkot in essence is a celebration of gratitude for water, that which gives us life and crops. It was beautiful to not only discuss these ideas in depth, but experience how they were both so PRESENT throughout the weekend. We weren’t just talking about them, they were there. Thursday night the festival officially began, and we spent hours sitting around the campfire and singing nigguns to beautiful drumming and mandolin. The kind of singing when everyone forgets who and where they are - soulful. The joy was present in powerful music and dance all weekend, and in the way that everyone there showed so much genuine affection for one another, both physically and through heartfelt conversation: sharing and listening. There were so many moments of ecstatic prayer, song and dance, where all else fell away.
Water- the week was dry and hot. We were nestled in the mountains north of Santa Cruz, about a mile inland from the Pacific coast. But after the sun went down on Friday, the clouds came in and began to sprinkle. It continued through the night and we woke up in a cloud of mist, with the enormous eucalyptus trees peeking out. During the morning Shabbat Torah service it began to pour. A group rushed to get an enormous tarp over the sukkah to keep the service somewhat dry. As the prayer continued, huge puddles were forming all over the tarp, and several people were moving around the sukkah cutting open the tarp and using bamboo sticks to try to push the water off the edges of the tarp, creating waterfalls coming down all around us. The reading continues, and a group is huddled around holding up a cloth to try to protect the torah. The rain is so loud that we couldn’t hear the reader, so those surrounding the table would repeat the words back to everyone in the sukkah. We were huddled together, holding each other, cold and wet, and all smiling enormously, laughing and appreciating the absurdity and magic of it all. One of the torah readings (aaliyot) was dedicated to those who wanted to let themselves be vulnerable. So all those who were seeking vulnerability went up to the torah and participated in the prayer. I felt this immense vulnerability of the entire community during that moment- we were struggling to protect the holy scroll from water damage, all of us living in tents that were barely water tight, all of us together victim to the elements, but we were connected in that vulnerability. We took a moment in the service to be silent, and listen to the rain come down over us, and take it in. Zelig reminded us that we could have chosen to take the torah to the barn, to have our service in a dry space, but the point of what we were doing at this event was to bring the torah back to nature, and we were doing it. We were praying for water and water came. The service ended in joyous chanting and dance, and several of us ran out barefoot into the mud and kept singing and dancing like fools in the rain, learning different Israeli folk dances and laughing at how ridiculous we were.
That night, we attempted to recreate Beit Ha’shoeva, an ancient water ritual practiced during Sukkot in the time of the temple. Each of us was asked to bring some water from home or from a source that was important to us, and we collected our water together in our assigned tribes, as we were each going to do our offering as a tribe. I was disappointed that I forgot to bring water, and right as we were collecting our waters together a woman ran up to our group saying “oh I wasn’t assigned a tribe, please can I put my water in with yours??” and we welcomed her to do the ritual with us. She told us that she brought water from the Tuolumne River. The river that runs through Tawonga.
I felt myself open up as the week went on, when at first I was skeptical when I arrived, and somewhat shocked at how welcoming and loving everyone was, by the end of it I felt like I had freed some buried part of myself that I’ve been searching for.
I leave Sukkot on the Farm once again completely dumbfounded by the power of intentional community. When community is founded in love and united in intention, in this case Jewish spirituality, love, and learning, it’s power is boundless. I’ve re-entered the real world in a daze, with some kind of encompassing inner peace and satisfaction, feeling that everything is okay, knowing that this kind of magic exists out there and I am a part of it. Now I move forward, more dedicated than ever to try to incorporate this kind of intention and love into my life and share it everywhere.