About Nishmat Shoom

The Basics

We are a small group of people that includes queer and trans artists, farmers, healers, educators, writers, organizers, witches, and spiritual leaders coming together to reclaim the wisdom and traditions of our ancestors, to connect with ourselves, land, each other, and spirit to dream, sing, pray, and work towards another world we know is possible.

We are non-zionist and diasporist, traditional and non-traditional, experimental and emergent, rooted and radical. We believe that rooting into our diverse, ancient, and new Jewish traditions for sustenance and resource can support us in dismantling white supremacy and other structures of oppression and help us move toward collective liberation.

Our Beginning

We came together in 2018 to envision a High Holy Days experience that would reflect our shared values. We hoped to create a Jewish ritual space that could welcome those who have not always felt welcome—those who question if they are “Jewish enough,” those whose JOCSM1 identities and traditions are not centered by most U.S. synagogues, those who have felt alienated by social and political attitudes in other Jewish spaces, and anyone who has longed, as we have, for a spiritual community that centers those on the margins.

Our Name

Nishmat Shoom: the soul/breath of garlic
We take inspiration, literally breathing in, from the wisdom and medicine of the garlic plant. Garlic is one of our Jewish diasporic ancestral plants, first grown in the fertile crescent, used in food and medicine for thousands of years by Mizrahi, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews. In Roman times, Jews were known pejoratively as “Garlic Eaters” and as garlic traveled with some Jews into Europe, so did the term “garlic eaters”. As many Jews immigrated to the US, the connection with garlic was lost; as the pressures of assimilation often take form of shame and embarrassment of looking and smelling different, essentially forcing us to denounce and shun the magic, medicine and scents of our homelands. By strengthening our immune systems and our hearts, and drawing on the protection from our ancestors and plantcestors, garlic supports us to be strong as individuals held in a healing, well, pungent, alive community. In the grand tradition of reclaiming words hurled at us in hatred, we are excited to reclaim the powerful stink and the stinky power of being GARLIC EATERS.

1JOCSM stands for “Jews of Color and Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews.” If you want to learn more about JOCSM, check out Unruly, a blog written by the Jewish Voice for Peace JOCSM Caucus.