Jewish Woman Magazine — Cover Story

Jewish Women
a publication of Jewish Woman International
Cover Story

Answering the call of the wild, these women challenge themselves and our preconceptions of Jewish women.
By Rahel Musleah

“Today’s girls have amazing role models in sports,” says Rabbi Jamie Korngold, the “Adventure Rabbi.” Based in Boulder, Colo., Rabbi Korngold performs wilderness weddings and backcountry bar mitzvahs. On her website (, she writes, “I am the rabbi who will preach sermons about skiing as easily as I will about [the Torah portion of] Shemini.…I am the rabbi who will take your students to the top of mountains to pray. As they climb the steep mountain they will feel how capable they truly are. When they reach a hand to help someone behind them they will learn how strong community allows them to be. When they stand on the summit and daven ‘Yotzer Or’ [Creator of Light], they will finally understand what it means to praise the Creator.”

“The spirituality of the wilderness can awaken Judaism,” says Rabbi Korngold, 37, who was ordained by Hebrew Union College (HUC) in 1999, served Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Calgary, Canada, and still holds two part-time pulpits. A call from a couple who had adopted a daughter from Romania and wanted to do a conversion and baby-naming at the bottom of the Grand Canyon sparked the idea for Adventure Rabbi. Rabbi Korngold’s desire to find a balance of body, mind and spirit outside of the typical synagogue framework has resulted in a pulpit of a very different kind. She has officiated at weddings at Yosemite, in the Everglades, on snowmobiles and in teepees.

The truth, Rabbi Korngold says, is that “being a rabbi is an adventure because there’s still so much sexism out there. In its own way, it’s an extreme sport.” Raised in a religious Reform home in affluent Westchester, N.Y., Rabbi Korngold traces her deep connection to the earth back to childhood. At 13, she spent a “life-changing” summer at a camp in Maine, where she backpacked, canoed, cycled, sailed and went deep-sea fishing. “For the first time in my life, I felt my friends liked me not just for what I wore or how much money my parents had, not for how pretty I was or what kinds of grades I got, but simply because of who I was inside.”

In high school, she joined a 4,200-mile American Youth Hostel cross-country bike trip. “I never saw myself as an exceptional athlete, but outdoor sports require different skills: perseverance, endurance, looking out for others, humor.” With a college degree in natural resources behind her, she took up telemark skiing, a more athletic, graceful style of alpine skiing, and even placed fourth in a national mogul championship. She skied 140 days a year; to support her day “habit,” she worked odd jobs—as a street musician in Japan, massage therapist, sushi chef, emergency medical technician and Outward Bound instructor.

When asked by members of the Jewish community in Vail, Colo., if she would study to become their rabbi (she often led services), she enrolled in rabbinical school. The challenge was daunting. “At HUC, I was good but not academically stellar. That was hard on my self-esteem. Also, there was always constant public evaluation and judgment. I am a very private person. I needed something that was just mine, and it needed to be something I was good at.”

Ultra marathons—any distance more than 26.2 miles—fit the bill. Running 60 miles a week, the feeling of “I can do it” spilled over to Talmud classes. She ran the Leadville Trail 100, a 100-mile foot race over four mountain passes, in less than 30 hours. “It required complete concentration and belief in myself,” she recalls. After ordination, she had neither the time nor the mental discipline to continue distance running, so she switched to triathlons.

Rabbi Korngold met her husband, Jeff Finkelstein, nine years ago in Vail, but they started dating only two years ago. An avid outdoor enthusiast, skier and mountaineer, Finkelstein joins Korngold to lead most Adventure Rabbi trips together. Life events and physical risks often mirror each other on their trips. At weddings, for instance, the couple’s emotional risk in marrying parallels the physical vulnerability of climbing a peak

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