As I sat for hours in silence surrounded by the beauty of Death Valley during my trip with Wilderness Torah for their Passover in the Desert festival, I truly felt close to the One. Something I had been searching for in Judaism finally came clear in the humbling reflection of Earth.
However, my journey started long before Passover in the Desert. In early 2012, I went on my Birthright Israel trip feeling very disconnected from the Jewish community and Judaism in general. The only holidays I recognized were Chanukah and Yom Kippur. But on Birthright, I fell in love with Israel and ended up extending my trip for about a month. When I came home, I began looking for something deeper and different than the Judaism with which I’d grown up. After reading some books about Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and meeting with a few teachers, I became more interested in the Hebrew language. I truly feel like there was some divine intervention when I unexpectedly auditioned to teach music at a temple in Encino. As a musician, teaching Jewish or Hebrew songs would be new for me. This one audition led to more song-leading opportunities, and I found myself seeking out a Jewish community of my peers in my non-native Los Angeles. At a Moishe House event, I met a Federation staff member who told me about their work with Birthright Israel.
Fast forward a little bit and I was chosen by the Federation to lead a Birthright Israel LA Way trip as one of the madrichim (staff). This was an amazing experience that added to my spiritual development, leadership skills and love of my culture. One of the most memorable moments of that trip was when I took a solo hike from Tzfat to Meron; the peace and sacredness I felt while connecting to the land was profound. When I returned to L.A., I became a BRIdge Fellow, continuing my staff role and serving as a mentor to my participants who were charged with creating opportunities for our group to continue to get together as a Jewish community. The BRIdge Fellowship exposed me to the joys, challenges, and opportunities of creating and nurturing a relevant Jewish community for young adults in their early 20s.
With the help of the Federation, I chose to spend my recent Passover in the Panamint Valley with the Wilderness Torah. Sometimes in life you have a moment where you feel like you have “found your people.” This was definitely one of them for me. The view of the mountain range was breathtaking and the gourmet food being served by Chef Baruch kept everyone’s belly in a happy and kosher state. Everything about the festival was intentional, from the way we entered into the village to the placement and schedule of activities. The sound of niggunim (wordless melodies) was always in the air, and any person you sat next to would meet you with kind conversation. The centerpiece of this experience was a shared reverence for adama (earth). Being off the grid empowered me to leave my phone and all thoughts of what was in L.A. behind me so I could be truly present with myself, the community, and the infinite. During my “wilderness encounter,” I sat for hours in silence out in the California midbar (desert), growing my relationship with the One. It is through this journey that I have realized that an earth-based form of Judaism is what really resonates with me. I have found my people, and I have discovered a Judaism that is relevant and speaks to who I am.
Brock Pollock is originally from Akron, Ohio and moved to L.A. in 2009 after graduating from Berklee College of Music. He works as a multi-instrument musician, performing and recording for all styles and occasions. Brock also works as composer and recently finished scoring the film “In Between the Miles.”
For more information about Birthright Israel LA Way or the BRIdge Fellowship, please contact Margalit Rosenthal at (323) 761-8208 or MRosenthal@JewishLA.org.