An Early Spiritual History of Joshua Bolton

Rabbi Joshua Bolton
September 9, 2014
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I wore Krishna beads and chanted Hare Krishna (etc.) between Government and AP English classes. But I never made it to the free meals at the temple in Maryland.

Early on Rosh HaShannah morning – I was maybe 14 or 15 – I walked out into the woods and sat cross-legged in the cleft of a rock. I lit several candles. I think I buried something.

I bought a loaf of bread, a red pepper, and some cheese and walked down into the valley outside Tzfat.

I was in my Dodge Dakota listening to gospel bluegrass when I suddenly understood the sweetness of Jesus. I didn’t accept his bleeding heart – but I still see it out there, doing its thing.

Beside the trickling water of Little Difficult Run there was a small holy tree. I often hiked up to that spot and spoke with the tree. I brought several friends there too.

A few days before Yom Kippur Zac Kamenetz and I walked over to a tributary of the Potomac and made ritual ablutions in advance of the holiday. I’ve made many ritual ablutions in the waters of Northern Virginia.

I copied a page from Gates of Prayer. I took colorful markers and highlighted special words. I carried this page with me in various old boxes for nearly 20 years. When I handled it last, it smelled of patchouli and loose tobacco.

Zac Kamenetz lent me a book by Pema Chodron . This was when I was very deep into Beat poetry and Gary Snyder’s essays. I lived in an eclectic house of students. I began every day sitting and cultivating “No Mind.”

When I first owned my tefillin I was embarrassed and didn’t want it to be discovered that I was experimenting this way. I donned them in a phone booth on the ground floor of the student dormitory. A custodian opened the second door in the booth and awkwardly had to crawl around me.

Somehow I began to read the books of Scott Cunningham – I think he lived in Hawaii. Llewellyn was the publisher. I learned to cast a circle and on various solstices and equinoxes I would eat cake in the woods.

After a Sabbath lunch at the apartment of Zac Kamenetz, I walked into the Old City and ended up at the head of the Easter procession into the Church of the Sepulcher. I was pretty down on my luck at the time, and lonely too. I held a slender candle and circumambulated the chapel. That still, small flame meant a lot to me.

I stole a small siddur from the “library” at my synagogue. It was military issue, and covered in a soft lime paper.

I davened at the Carlebach shul – the one that gathers in a bomb shelter in Nachla’ot. It was crammed and very hot. In the fury of bodies and noises I glanced into the weepy, blood shot eyes of a young man also my age. We were singing Lecha Dodi.

On a hot afternoon atop Skyline Drive I held the hands of a stranger as we prayed for her community. A child she taught in elementary school had grown up and lost his life in Afghanistan.

On a Thanksgiving, Zac Kamenetz and I made a Kabbalah cake.

Under the inspirational influence of a Chabad rabbi, I decided to seek a “second” circumcision. It was performed in a child’s room in Baltimore.

I rented a hut on the shore of Ras-al-Satan. All I had with me was a pack of cigarettes and The Age of Reason by Sartre. I stood in the shallow water for three days looking back at the sand cliffs that rose breathlessly behind the beach.

In sixth grade I was asked to read “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” on the PA system of the elementary school. I think it was Holocaust Memorial Day. It wasn’t a very Jewish school. I choked up and wept even though, of course, the meaning of the Shoah was beyond my scope as a 12 year old. When I got back to the room, my teacher had a great pity for me – I think she considered the entire ceremony too torturous for a child.

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