Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wilderness Awakenings, and Judaism?

This Fall's Reform Judaism Magazine has a fascinating article about "how our Biblical ancestors first experienced G_d in the wilderness: what did they know that we need to re-discover"? The article explores how in Biblical times there was no separation from the natural world, so indeed there isn't even a word in Torah for our modern day term of 'wilderness' (from Rabbi Mike Comins).

If we're not separated, then why have we strayed from worshipping and performing rituals within these perfectly serene environments?

This resonates strongly with me, as I’ve often wondered whether or not my personal wilderness search – the desire to find and reside near "foreverland", and/or just disappear there daily, and then share it – had a connection to my Judaism. Since I typically find my spiritual comfort zone in natural places, outdoors vs indoors, that dis-connect to how we usually practice Reform Judaism has always left we wondering about how, or if, I belong with our regular traditions.

Then, I read the RJ Magazine article. What an eye-opener. Our roots ARE the natural places and wilderness: perhaps obvious historically, but I never really thought about it. Housing Judaism indoors came later – perhaps to keep the flock from reverting to paganism.

The article is a compilation of comments from Rabbis who are practicing a Judaism closer to the natural world. They are quite stimulating!

I would hope there’s a place in our congregation for programming that encompasses this level of experience, worship, and spiritual travel: I sense Rabbi Todd has begun with some of the youth experiences in recent years. Are there not those in our adult community seeking such a connection? Certainly those concerned about the environment and Mother Nature should be interested. Seems to me, it’s the ultimate in spiritual synergy between Torah, humankind, and the rest of G_d’s creation . . .

Our annual Tashlich service at Elm Bank is but a small tip of the iceberg (albeit, a nice one). Retreats, wilderness trips, a regular Shabbat outdoors, and just appreciating the miracle of beautiful sunsets, all fall within this natural and spiritual mindset.

I'll share an example: Shabbat on horseback, one Friday on a night horseback ride in the Pennsylvania Tioga County wilderness, a full moon to boot. I’ve never found the words to describe it, but somehow almost the entire Shabbat service came to me from memory . . .

“Wilderness Awakening” is a great read – see the mag, or I'd be happy to forward anyone a scanned copy.

And, please share your thoughts here on the TBS blog, and particularly any personal experiences!

Jeremy Serwer


  1. Thanks for your kind comments our the RJ article! It is always so heart warming to know people are reading about our work.

    Rabbi Jamie Korngold
    Adventure Rabbi

  2. Hey Jeremy, I feel the same way about skiing (but not golf). Ever notice that everyone walking into the lodge at the end of a day of skiing has a smile on their face? Ever see anyone walking into the 19th hole lounge with that smile? John