Plant Worlds / Jewish Plant Magic / Wild and Cultivated Plant Walks / The More-Than Human World

I have worked for many years with both the wild and cultivated plant world — in my twenties as an organic farmer and flower grower, in my thirties as a teacher of wild edibles, plant connection, and land-based cultural work. Issues of land and the natural world also show up in my films and in my writing — observations of the Rio Grande and the control of nature on the US—Mexico border, the ocean as a healing immersive space, birding, and the plants and trees of my childhood neighborhood.

My most recent project is called Jewish Plant Magic, something I spun together with my friend, herbalist and healer Dori Midnight. Back in 2017, I was teaching classes about land and plants to Jewish adults. I would start every class with the question: “What did your ancestors grow?”. It was a question that arose intuitively out of my work with land and identity and assimilation and cultural appropriation. I wanted to excavate back to our diasporic roots and push people to connect back to the land and people that came before them. My student’s answers stopped me in my tracks: “My ancestors didn’t grow anything because they were always running away or being killed”, “My grandparents grew text, they read books. They didn’t grow plants”, “I don’t know— maybe potatoes?”, “Umm, literally nothing comes to mind”.

What then to do with these answers? I realized there was a clear lack of knowledge, of stories being told, of attention to these questions. I realized that these answers arose because of cultural structures and phenomena: assimilation, anti-semitism, historical trauma, immigration, white supremacy, disembodiment in response to trauma. I also have a strong belief that to take on the work of understanding ‘where one comes from’, work that leads us to delve into land/place/food our grandparents made/spiritual ritual, is vital political work. So I tasked myself with a project: to research and find whatever stories I could find about Jewish plant ritual, Jewish herbalism, and Jewish plant traditions. I started reading and googling and getting out-of-print books and finding ethnographic accounts of shtetl life, of Sephardic amulets. It’s all about the fragments. Dori, serendipitously enough, had also started her own research on the same subjects, she on the east coast and me on the west.

One thing lead to the next (including of course many shared google docs!), and we launched our first Jewish Plant Magic weekend workshop in June 2018. We teach about all the knowledge and stories and texts we have gathered, about the plants, and we create new rituals out of the old, out of the fragments, out of the sacred trash, out of the lives we live now.

To find out about our next Jewish Plant Magic offerings, email us at jewishplantmagic@gmail.com to sign up for our mailing list.