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Avigail on Passover in the Desert

There’s an organization based in Northern CA that organizes big “festival” camping events for the main Jewish Pilgrimage holidays. This year, with so much vacation around Passover, I decided to join a couple of friends of mine and 85 other people I didn’t know at all in the desert. We camped for 4 nights and 5 days in the Panamint Valley (right next to Death Valley). I traveled from Brooklyn to Berkeley on Wed (after the seders were over) and my cousin Anne picked me up from the airport, took me to a lovely chametz-free dinner  and then helped to outfit me with gear. The next morning I drove with some old friends and some new, the 8 hours it took us to get to our destination. We drove most of the way down the 5, and then traveled east of Bakersfield to about half-way to the Nevada border.


If you look at the photos you’ll see just how starkly beautiful the landscape is click here:

The mountains that surrounded us were wrinkly and bald, sort of like elephants. The sky was generally clear and huge, especially in the morning. This part of the desert is DRY – with fewer bushes than there are buildings, much less people, in NYC. That was probably the starkest thing for me — being with only 90 people, and so spread out! That, and the power of experiencing Passover, in the wilderness — being called to meals with a shofar blast, and moving from the “tent of meeting” to the sanctuary, to my own tent, all the while realizing that without careful management, water and waste would become problems for our survival — and this desert was without manna. We did, of course, eat well. I consumed lots of avocado and labne on matzah, with plenty of charoset and nutella thrown in for good measure. We had lovely green salads and big hearty soups as well.

Each evening a big dust storm would kick up and blow a lot of dirt around. That made it pretty uncomfortable at times, but the mornings were calm and clear and beautiful. Highlights for me included: davenning Kabbalat Shabbat with 3 friends in the pitch black night by headlamp, singing the Indigo Girls at the camp fire, seeing Orion and the dipper so clearly, finding pieces of “fire glass” and meeting many good people who were all interested in reliving the Exodus and leaving the narrow places of Mitzrayim (Egypt, but only sort of) together. My colleague Renna and I taught a little session on the Omer, that was also fun.

We drove back North on Monday, I flew home to Brooklyn Tuesday and have been doing a lot of thinking about keeping the energy and purpose I found in the desert alive while I’m back in the daily grind in NYC.

Thanks to Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz for this post!

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