What I Left Behind
Denver’s Hub Manager, Scott, reflects on his seder in the Moab desert, the careful balance between individuality and community, and creating your own physical and spiritual adventure.
“I want you to think about what you’ll take with you, and what you’ll leave behind”.
It was far from the first time I’d heard that sentence. Another colloquial regurgitation trying to impose meaning and weight onto another ritual. But this time I heard it differently. I wasn’t locked in my seat at some monolithic synagogue, balancing the obligations of social norm and struggling to ignite my spirituality like a light switch at the appropriate time and place. Instead, we were in Moab, Utah, immersed in a Mars-like alternate reality, inspired by unfamiliarity and the potential that only exists within newness.
In this unique environment came a unique brainspace and an openness to readdress the conventional with a new lens. And that same line stuck with me, what would I want to take with me and leave behind. The overarching metaphor as we prepared for the “Seder Hike” was warmly overwhelming. A journey through the isolated desert, relying on each other alone, fueled by anticipation and uncertainty. And is that not what we look for in spirituality, an overflowing flood of overwhelming emotion?
Ahead of us was a long, dark tunnel cut into the rock–a physical representation of separation–marking a boundary between the sacred and the everyday. Our hike began on the other side of that tunnel, where we’d leave the everyday behind and together, as a community, embark on a spiritual journey. I’ve been conditioned to take special notice of this theme of separation and this was a quintessential example. When the physical can permeate that which could only be imagined, an experience is elevated. And this is exactly what we had in front of us. This is the goal we strive to achieve; a believable experience of an unbelievable story. A genuine recreation of a tale that reflects the beauty that is uncovered from separating from the normative. A seamless amalgamation of lifestyle, spirituality and recreation of myth as a means of finding ourselves in our religious practice.
There is a natural conflict between the individual’s pursuit for meaning and the communal goal of unification. Not to say that these two are mutually exclusive, but it is easy for one to negate the other. That struggle has plagued me throughout my religious journey and I felt unrestricted and unjudged to pursue both simultaneously. It’s an inspiring feeling to be able to do what you love physically, infused with intention and community. I was not bound, but I was bonded.
From arms constantly extended to help those in need to traverse the rugged terrain, to a superwoman rabbi hauling her guitar and portable PA to add an extra level of beauty and art into the experience, to a one-of-a-kind marriage proposal by a brave man in front of a group of friends and strangers surrounded by a Torah scroll held up by the whole group in a circle, this experience was nothing short of transcendent. The struggle of the hike was neutralized by the power of the community. The discomfort of sitting on the ground for the Seder meal was cancelled out by the gorgeous rock formations and red river in the background. The Adventure was the triumph of the mind over hardship, the combining of personalized experiences woven together for an even holier group initiative.
What I left behind was doubt in the limitations of Judaism and its ability to be transformed and recreated for the individual, for the group. What I took with me was a belief in the power of the community in fostering, empowering and elevating my personal journey and path. It was rejuvenating for me–a non-conformist know-it-all–to be able to find a new depth to the religion after all these years and experiences. I am so grateful for this experience and to feel that there is space for me to not compromise my individual pursuit while working to build a sustainable, supportive community. Amazing how a familiar saying can uncover a new reality within the right setting, with the right community.