Jews trek to the Mojave Desert for a visceral Passover

c. Religion News Service 2013
Reprinted with permission

(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.

Torah service during Passover in the Desert 2011.

Torah service during Passover in the Desert 2011.

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 l