The AllCreation Podcast

This is ’’Pathways of Teshuvah, Part 1 - Identifying the Separation: Judaism's land-return.’’  This recording is part 1 of 3-part discussion with breakthrough academic, Dr. Pesach Chananiah, and youth mentor / gardener / war veteran, Mr. Marcus Kar, on reconnecting to Nature for sacred communion and emotional wellbeing. In this segment, host Chris Searles shares a synopsis of Dr.  Chananiah’s primary points on the impacts of the Exiles on Judaism’s disconnection from Nature, and Mr. Kar relates his own experience, seeking to be a vessel for positive change.

About Our Guests
  •  Dr. Pesach Chananiah (author) is a Jewish ecopsychologist, educator, and community organizer working in interfaith and environmental spaces. He writes about the psychological impact of disconnection from land, through a Jewish lens, and explores modes of healing through embodied spiritual practice in the natural world. Read his paper, Pathways of Teshuvah, on
  •  Marcus Kar (special guest) is a decorated veteran and a native of “North” Minneapolis, a predominantly African-descent (African-American) community struggling to overcome racism, economic poverty, and other forms of America’s institutional biases. Marcus is program director at Youth Farm, North Minneapolis, “a multi-faceted youth development organization growing food and young leaders, healthy bodies and minds, positive identity, neighborhood connections, community opportunities, and healthy relationships.”

0:00  Welcome & Intro  
2:30 Part I: Identifying the Separation from Nature: Judaism’s land-return
   2:50 Temples were metaphors for homelands 
   3:30 Exiles were environmentally-harsh (from the Fertile Crescent to the barren desert)

4:25 Dr. Chananiah 
   4:50 Professional disclaimers, backstory, search for identity, field work
   7:15 Teshuvah: ’’to return’’

8:45 Mr. Kar 
   9:35 Self-acceptance, identity, feelings 
   11:30 Being a vessel, not an expert, for positive change

12:10 The Separation from Nature
   12:30 Benstein quote 
   13:00 Rev. Korngold quote  

13:00 Dr. Chananiah: quick chronologies of the Exile
   13:15 the Temple   
   15:00 from Rites to Teachings
   16:15 Laws > Connection (to the lands,  other life, and Earth) 
   17:30 Rabbi Nachman’s hitbodedut

19:00 The Divine IN Nature? 
20:00 Dr. Chananiah: on “Diveykut“ and hugging, wrapping & “cleaving“ to the Divine  
   21:00 Nomads’ literal connections: 
   e.g. Abraham goes to the teacher tree
   e.g. Moses and the Burning Bush
23:00 Could I, a modern person, also experience Divinity in the wilderness?  



What is The AllCreation Podcast? Faith • Spirit • Biodiversity • Connections

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Chris Searles (HOST) 0:02
INTRO & WELCOME. Hi, Chris Searles, here. I am Executive Editor at all and I am the director at bio integrity dotnet which produces all creation. But I want to welcome you to our conversation on pathways up to shuba with eco psychologist Pesach Chananiah, and special guest, Marcus Kar.

Chris Searles 0:21
Dr. Chananiah is a community organizer in Nevada working to bring unions together on issues and opportunities around cleaner energy. And Mr. Kar is a youth mentor in North Minneapolis, where he's program director for Youth Farm, which is helping kids get out of the traumas of institutionalized poverty in America through urban gardening.

Chris Searles 0:43
And that is an extremely brief description of what Marcus does, He is literally saving lives with the work he does with youth. And that process has everything to do with engaging in nature. And returning to a more native sense of self. Marcus's urban gardening team just won a $750,000 grant to expand. And his Minneapolis Food Justice Council, which he was appointed to co lead by the mayor of Minneapolis after a six year process, just one city council approval yesterday. And this movement, this policy change in Minneapolis will empower expansion of local food production across the region. And even across the state of Minnesota. Marcus's approach to leadership is as a friend and as a builder. And as a grower, he builds balanced relationships, whether it's with the kids, or just as a gardener. He's working on balance and relationship, because of his nature, knowledge.

Chris Searles 1:41
And Pesach, the author of this breakthrough paper, he grew up as a Jewish American without a strong connection to his Judaism. And so as a PhD psychologist with a focus on how ecology and landscapes define our concept of reality, the space that we're in, as that person, he then went and explored his ancestral Jewish identity, and discovered that living with a sense of sacred relationship to the other life, in this giant ecosystem, the biodiversity of a given landscape replace that that is embedded in the texts, the ancient Jewish texts in the identity of the ancient Jewish culture.

Chris Searles 2:20
And of course, cutting all the way sort of to the chase of why we're having this conversation, why it's so important. That's the culture that created the first five books of the Bible and a lot of things for Western civilization. So I'm going to share first my sort of reading between the lines summary on Pesach paper, and ask him to respond. And then from there, we'll just talk through the many compelling points about that aspect of the paper.

SUMMARY. Here's my quick summary:

Chris Searles 2:50
In part one, here , Pesach, has identified the separation that occurred for Jews from nature. So in other words, I would say Pesach that we forgot, and that you have made this reconnection that we forgot that the temple is a metaphor, for homelands. It's the place where Jews went when they could not be on their homelands, living in a sacred life. And secondarily, because the Jewish exile over 2000 years ago, was out of literally, the most prolific and abundant part of the Fertile Crescent, where there was a lot of food and water and natural materials and ecological infrastructure. And they were exiled from that place of abundance into the desert, a place of almost the opposite experience. And as mentioned before, and Esox expertise is in Eco psychology. And so he's particularly aware of how that shift and literal environment that these people were in, perhaps created a more adversarial relationship for practitioners of Judaism, and nature. And at the same time, they were already sort of forced into a practice of ritualizing their Judaism into an institutionalized religion and a temple that was a metaphor for homelands. And so there was a deep, deep connection to indigeneity in the Jewish identity, the Jewish ancestral identity. And that's how I read this first breakthrough piece of the paper. Pesach. Can you kind of jump in and comment from there?

Dr. Chananiah (GUEST AUTHOR) 4:22
IDENTIFYING THE SEPARATION. Sure, Chris. Yeah. So I probably wouldn't have phrased it exactly how you did. But I think that's really on point. I can share just a little bit of my exploration around the topic. So I don't have any official formal training in Jewish Studies in rabbinic studies whatsoever. But about, gosh, maybe a dozen years ago, I was asked to, to teach a live and 12 year olds in a synagogue again, no kind of background except for, you know, growing up Jewish. And so I learned a lot through, you know, taking on that opportunity. And over the years, for various reasons I kept on having opportunities to teach in Jewish religious schools and, and did a lot of exploration, myself diving into texts, through showing up to Jewish religious experience, which I didn't, I grew up with a bit. So I've just been a student, I've just been, you know, curious to learn with others and on my own.

Dr. Chananiah 5:35
And then, also, about a dozen years ago, I started graduate program in community liberation and eco psychology. And I had the privilege to really explore a lot through that program. And within the different classes that I would take in Eco psychology in liberation psychology, a lot of my work was exploring both Jewish dynamics and connection and disconnection to land. And so that that sort of resulted in a couple of fieldwork projects. And those are really what I explore in the paper is my trip to Israel, Palestine, which included 10 days of volunteering on Palestinian farms, and really trying to gain a sense, I similarly to not really growing up with a whole lot of connection to Judaism, I also didn't grow up with a whole lot of connection to the land, and at about age 27 really felt that need. And so I had the opportunity to really experience permaculture farming, and really tried to learn how Palestinians are using that modality as sort of a response to occupation. And then shortly after returning from that trip, the next year, I was doing fieldwork in Jewish environmental summer camps, and spent about a year mentoring in a Jewish rites of passage and a wilderness exploration program with an organization called a wilderness Torah. And so that's the other piece that I really explore in the paper.

Dr. Chananiah 7:13
And so kind of the thread that I use to tie all of those together is this concept of teshuva, which oftentimes is translated as repentance, but I feel like a lot of us don't really connect to that concept, right? It's related to this idea of sin, which a lot of us might reject. And so, you know, to really dig into that, that concept, the etymology of that word to tshuva, it means to return. Right. And so we talk about it a lot during the Jewish High Holidays in terms of returning to our spiritual essence. And so I was really looking at a practice of tissue for the practice of returning, and how we can apply that to our relationship to land to our relationship to each other, and really discovering what it could look like to take a Jewish approach and an eco psychological approach and put them together. There's some really great work out there, but not enough.

Dr. Chananiah 8:15
And so, you know, again, my work and my exploration was really just out of my own curiosity and my own opportunity to really put myself as an object of research and discover what would come up as I was getting in touch with both my ancestral heritage and, and getting connected to the natural world.

Chris Searles 8:42
Yeah, Marcus, did you want to comment?

Mr. Kar (SPECIAL GUEST) 8:45
Well, I can definitely relate to that journey. You know, because I think I found a lot of the things I was looking for, for myself in nature. I've always been drawn to nature. I, you know, I grew up here in Minneapolis, but I left and join the military. And I got up right after I turned 16 And I graduate early. By 17. I was in boot camp and traveling around the world and experiencing things I that I never see you know, being an open water and going from continent and countries, you know, realizing that most of the boogeyman I've heard above look like me pretty interesting. And then really accept start accepting myself because a lot of older people that I encounter throughout my life has always installed a sense of wisdom in me from different cultures, different product of a lot of different people.

Mr. Kar 9:52
And my father, actually, every first son in my family has been a farmer or, you know, my dad was born in West Africa, they own hundreds of acres of land, grown rubber fruits, and sugarcane and rice and all these things and that, that knowledge is slowly dissipating for my family, I found myself here not by choice. But I realized I was really good at farming was my medicine and just my escape from like this world from from this, our society, I really kind of isolated on farms, and be around like minded people just kind of growing and seeing like, the fruits of our labor, not being land stewards, you know, when I started learning from my father, and his degree, agriculture, and his father, all these things, so I, I, I can relate to that journey of like, you know, really, everything that's happening right now comes from me, really digging inside myself, the time I spent in nature, really absorbing my own thoughts, you know, finishing my own thoughts, my own feelings, feeling my own feelings. asking myself questions and trying to process what's happening to me. In America,

Chris Searles 11:21
Can we come back to that in this second part, because I think that's exactly right: the transformation and the place of process.

Mr. Kar 11:34
I can definitely relate, I mean, his journey, you know, not not being someone who's intended to be an expert or anything on this stuff, but really applying his own life to this process, and being a vessel and hopefully using that opportunity for people outside of his body to see the kind of quality of life or like the things they want for themselves.

Chris Searles 12:01
BECOMING A PEOPLE OF THE BOOK. Marcus, im gonna interrupt because this is where your expertise as a practitioner, gets us where we want to go. And I want to ask Pesach, a couple more questions about the text and some specific quotes. And so Pesach here's, here's a couple that I think really frame the significance of this, this separation from nature, idea of being a thing that we can absolutely say happened. So here's one of the quotes, you say, as Ben Steen wrote, the spiritual sophistication of the Jewish people came to be seen embodied precisely in our ability to dispense with a homeland of soil and borders, and to live instead in the world at large, or in the text. And then you also say, for 1000s of years, we have been taught to focus on the words that were given, rather than the place in which they were given. Can you talk about that a little bit Pesach.

Dr. Chananiah 13:10
I should pull up exactly what you're talking about. So I can get the dates right. You know, and again, this is my study from scholars from experts. And I'm really a layperson on these topics. And so I'm not promising to be 100% accurate, but ...

Dr. Chananiah 13:28
My understanding is that up until the year 586 BCE, the experience of the ancient Israelites was surrounded around the ancient temple. And now what's left of that temple in Jerusalem is the Western Wall. There's one and it's not even a wall from the temple, but it's sort of the, the external barrier. When that temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, they sent the vast majority of Israelites into exile in you know, the larger Babylonian Empire.

Dr. Chananiah 14:00
And a lot of Judaism was developed during that period and changed a lot because those individuals no longer had access to the temple where certain secretive rites were happening, sort of animal sacrifice, right, the types of practices that we no longer practice. 70 years later, the Israelites were allowed back into their ancestral homelands, they rebuilt the temple. And so for another 500 years or so, they were to some extent continuing to practice those rituals. And then the Romans destroyed the temple in the year 70 of the Common Era. And at that point, the rabbi's no longer having access the rabbi's are teachers Rabbi means teacher.

Dr. Chananiah 14:55
And so the religion went from a practice of priests and priestly rites to a practice of teaching. So there was this focus on on the Torah, right? We, in the synagogue these days have this really amazing scroll all over the world, it's exactly the same. Scholars take great care in writing this, this scroll. And there's such an emphasis in the Jewish world of reading both the Torah, which is the Five Books of Moses, the other books of what some would consider the Old Testament, and extensive commentary and commentary, the, the mission, and Gomorrah and all these books that the rabbi's read and study over and over again, and that young Jews in school will read and debate about and you know, we inherit all of these, these amazing stories.

Dr. Chananiah 15:58
And those of us all, who are in the Western tradition, know many of these stories, right? The Exodus story of Moses, perhaps some of the other stories of the forefathers like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, you know, so just to respond to that quote that you offered, Chris. Judaism is seen to be a result of innovation of those early rabbis of needing to adapt from a people focused on this central temple, and these ancient rituals, and instead really become focused on on laws. And you know, you can you can look at the example of the way that religious Jews observe Shabbat, the Sabbath, there's so many laws, right, and that's so much to the centrality of the religion today is focused on the laws on textual study, debate. And many would argue that, that, despite the importance of those rituals, we simultaneously have lost a connection with the earth. And I think that again, those of us in the Western tradition, and those of us really across the globe, from every tradition, have lost a connection to the earth.

Dr. Chananiah 17:27
And so my interest that I'm exploring in this paper is where in our tradition in our stories, both, you know, what I would call the myths of, of the Torah, but also of maybe these more recent stories of Hasidic masters, like where can we find experience of connection to the earth.

Dr. Chananiah 17:51
And so one example that I explore is, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, was known for the practice of heat boda doot, which really is time alone, outside speaking to the divine. And so, you know, some of us, I think, who have connection to the earth can relate to that, that when we're outside, especially, you know, under trees, especially, you know, under the night sky, we can really access spirituality in a way that's very different from how we might do under a roof. Reading. You know, it's, it's really different in so just just to wrap up, sometimes when I'm at the synagogue for Shabbat service, and there's a period where it's an individual prayer, and people are reading, I put my book down, and maybe they're reading for five minutes or so. And I just like, run outside, and I do my own my own prayers under the sky. And I get just a minute in that service of that practice of people to do.

Chris Searles 19:03
CONNECTING TO THE DIVINE. Let me ask you one more thing about this. There's a quote here, I don't know the word or the reference that takes that even maybe a little more specifically talk about leading Hasidic mystics and their disciples spent time in nature to cleave to the divine. While the vast majority of the world's Jews read the stories of our ancestral figures, nomads who had numinous experiences in the wilderness, we have by and large lost the sense that we too might experience Duveykut. What is divekut?

Chris Searles 19:40
There's also this great line in your writing where you say, Is it possible that our evolution towards being quote, the people of the book has left us lacking a connection with the potential raw awesomeness of spiritual experience, often occurring in the outdoors in the wilderness? So yeah, so what is the diveykut? Is that only available outdoors? What does that mean?

Dr. Chananiah 20:07
It is not. It's just generally understood. As you know, the the word that I use here is cleaving, cleaving to the divine...

Chris Searles 20:23
This is beautiful sounding language and cleaving is such a powerful word!! So yeah, go ahead and talk about this please

Dr. Chananiah 20:29
And, you know, again, I think that it's interesting to juxtapose the experience of having a tradition that is very much focused on, on prayers in a book, with this concept of cleaving, like sometimes again, I close the book, and I just hug it not that there's necessarily anything you know, special about about the book, it has prayers and so great, but it's just some some way to kind of wrap wrap my arms around around myself, right. And in terms of the this concept of nomads who had numinous experiences in the wilderness, we have these stories early on in the Torah of Abraham being told by this divine voice --

Dr. Chananiah 21:17
(Marcus drapes prayer shawl around him) and I love that shawl Marcus, that's, that's beautiful. That's I would say, that's another example, right? Sometimes I take my shawl and just wrap it around myself, right? --

Dr. Chananiah 21:27
Abraham has told like, Go, and the language, it's level at heart, the Hebrew it sort of means like, go and go to yourself. And so what he does is he leaves the land of his ancestors. And he just travels. And one of the first places that he winds up and I talked about this a little bit in the article is he winds up at Lone, more rat. And I learned from this this great, Rabbi Zella golden, who started this organization wilderness Torah that I volunteered with, that, often times that word is translated almost always is translated as the terrible death of Maura. No one knows what a terabit is. And it's just terabit the Murrah, but when you translate a lot more, and if you ask a fifth grader who knows some Hebrew, it means teacher tree, right? So Abraham leaves the land he grew up in, he goes traveling in the wilderness, and he winds up at the feet of a teacher tree at the roots. And so we wonder, it's not clear in the texts, we wonder what did Abraham do it at teacher tree, right?

Dr. Chananiah 22:34
We similarly know the story of Moses, tending his flock of sheep, and just being overcome by this burning bush, right. And some would say, oh, maybe he had some kind of special plant, this psychedelic plant that exists out there. And that's how that happened. We don't really know. But there's so many stories, and I can I can point to others as well, so many stories, these myths in the Jewish tradition, where the connection with the Divine happens outside. And we talk about these myths as if that was something that happened in ancient times, it used to mean something. Right? And now we don't do that right now. We just talk about it.

Dr. Chananiah 23:22
And so the opportunity that I'm presenting the horizon that I think this approach brings is, what could it mean to meld our spiritual traditions and the stories, the opportunities, the possibilities that they present to actually being outside? If I know that this happened to my ancestors to the midst in my tradition? Could I potentially also be able to experience divinity just because I get out there because I left law and you know, in my experience, yes, in my experience, it really did require first just being outside spending more time on my parents balcony as a, as a teenager and through the years on my own balcony, or just wandering in the forest, or, you know, just getting out there and that's where the Divinity happens in my experience much more than either reading or being under a roof although it can happen there. Diveykut could can happen anywhere where we let the divine in, but the wilderness -- and I'd be curious to hear how others on this call experienced that too, but the wilderness makes it, I think, really accessible.