Boulder Daily Camera

Adventure Rabbi in the News:

Adventure Worship:
Outdoor services bring hikers closer to God
By Julie Marshall, Camera Staff Writer
June 28, 2003

Wearing a blue-and-white prayer shawl with tassels pointing down toward her brown, weathered hiking boots, Rabbi Jamie Korngold sits on a moss-covered rock to begin Shabbat services.

Her congregants rest cross-legged on a bed of pine cones and needles; the ceiling of their synagogue is a canopy of Ponderosa Pines with light provided by the sun.

The rabbi sits atop a large moss-covered rock and asks that everyone read Rav. Abraham Ben Maimonides aloud:

“In order to serve God, one needs access to the enjoyment of the beauties of nature, Such as the contemplation of flower-decorated meadows, majestic mountains, flowing rivers, etc. For all these are essential to the spiritual development of even the holiest of people.”

Savoring a religious moment outdoors is as natural as breathing for Korngold. Every month, the Boulder rabbi leads Jews into the woods for a nature hike and morning service. Korngold joins a small but dedicated group of spiritual leaders in Boulder County who have carved a successful niche that blends outdoor adventure with worship.

Jews of the Earth, a Boulder eco-Jewish group, offers the Torah Trek – a hike led by visiting Israeli rabbis who teach life lessons of sacred texts while meandering the foothills. And then there is Beverly Fest, known as Rev. Bev, an ordained Methodist deacon and marathon runner who tends to attract active folks – rock climbers, hikers, runners – who don’t belong to any church, but want a custom-made, outdoor ceremony, she says. Rev. Bev performs weddings and funerals; she blesses children and animals.

“The outdoors as the ultimate sanctuary,” the deacon says.

Those who take part in outdoor events say they are as spiritually fulfilling as going to church or synagogue.

Laurie Fisher joined Korngold’s mid-June hike up Shanahan Ridge and cannot think of any place better than a mountain hike to connect to her Jewish faith.

Before stepping on the rocky trail, Fisher prepared to say the Kaddish – a blessing during Shabbat services, to honor the anniversary of a loved one’s death – for her mother in a restful spot among the trees.

“This hike is a way to do something Jewish, and to still feel Jewish,” Fisher says, “but not have to belong to temple.”

The ‘Adventure Rabbi’
They came from near and far to meet the Adventure Rabbi.

One couple drove from Aspen, hoping to ask Korngold to come to California and perform their wedding on a beach. An Australian ski instructor now living in Boulder brought his “mum” to show her a taste of Boulder’s Jewish life.

A group of 34, including scientists, professors, a writer and a Telemark ski instructor from Crested Butte, came earlier this month for an hour hike followed by Shabbat services along the Shanahan Ridge Trail in south Boulder.

“It’s been steadily growing every month,” Korngold says.

Korngold is the Adventure Rabbi. It’s on her business card and on her Web site; the Adventure Rabbi has a newsletter. She’s no doubt qualified, having finished a half Ironman Triathlon and the Leadville 100-mile trail run. Korngold took fourth place in Breckenridge’s national Telemark Mogul Championships, and as a teenager, she bicycled 4,000 miles from her childhood home in New York to San Francisco.

She leads children’s hikes through Rocky Mountain National Park and monthly ski trips every winter. Last season, a faithful and “an amazing group of hard-core skiers” showed in Copper, but the day trips are for all levels. Every event is infused with lessons of Judaism.

Korngold once performed a baby-naming ceremony at the base of the Grand Canyon. One persistent couple wants her for a raft-trip wedding.

“We’re in the beginning stages of discussion,” the rabbi says.

Adventure Rabbi was created after Korngold was ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1999. It was a way to attract the many Jews who are turned off by organized religion, she says.

“So I try to create an experience that is spiritually fulfilling.”

For Korngold, sports and spirituality are intertwined.

“I remember when I was in seminary and we were talking about how each one of us connected to God,” she recalls. “Most said they prayed; some studied… for me, it has always been about ultramarathon running. There is just something about being surrounded by creation and focusing on my breath. I become my breath as I am moving down a trail. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s just an incredible hook up with that which is greater than ourselves. Very few other things take me there.”

Today, Korngold hopes to inspire others to find their connection to a divine place – to connect with Ruach HaOlam, or the Spirit of the Universe.

Just reading a simple phrase can be a first step, the rabbi says.

After an hour of uphill hiking, Korngold invites her group to read aloud the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“Awe rather than faith is the cardinal attitude of the religious Jew.”

She then invites everybody to wander off for five minutes and take notice of the “awesomeness” of nature.

“It’s my hope to let that awe of nature bring people back to Judaism.”

Darren Levy, an Australian who teaches at Eldora Ski Resort, says he enjoys being part of a group creating a spiritual experience outdoors together.

“I’m not religious, but I like feeling like I’m part of something,” Levy says. “Being here with others makes it (Shabbat) spiritual.”

Jerry Shustrin, a former mountaineering guide, adds that getting outdoors and doing something rigorously athletic can further one’s spiritual exploration.

“I’ve always thought that God is that energy living within each of us,” says Shustrin, who has climbed volcanoes of Mexico. “I like to push myself and work out hard. It’s a test of what’s inside.”

Torah Trek
It makes sense that Jews would take to nature, says David Greenberg, a seventh-grade bar mitzvah class teacher at Bonai Shalom in Boulder.”We wandered the desert for 40 years, right?”

Early spring, Greenberg and his students joined a Torah Trek sponsored by Jews of the Earth and the Weaver Family Foundation in Boulder. The morning hike was led by rabbis visiting from Israel who are part of RIKMA rabbis – a group dedicated to positive environmental and social change.

“This is Jewish education at its best,” Greenberg says, as he sits on a large stone in Chautauqua’s Bluebell amphitheater. “God’s evidence is out here.”

Thirty Jews joined the May hike led to two RIKMA rabbis. Walking through trickling waterfalls and dense forest was a typical Shabbat for Rabbi Elisha Wolfin, a hiking guide in Israel. At home, Wolfin will ascend to breathtaking vistas of the Golan Heights or lookout over the city of Haifa atop Mount Carmel, known to be the favorite place of the prophet Elijah.

“With all the prayers and davening that I do, Shabbat is just not complete unless I go out to Mount Carmel in the cool of the evening,” he says.

‘Rev. Bev’
Last week while on a training run for the Berlin Marathon in September, Beverly Fest thought of Jesus.

“Jesus went to the mountains to pray, or to the gardens,” she says. “Running is my prayer and devotional time.”

Like Korngold, Fest, aka Rev. Bev, connects to the divine through extreme sports. Fest, too, has made her life’s work helping others make that connection.

Fest, an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church and part-time chaplain associate at Boulder Community Hospital, is the founder of Mountain Ministry – a ministry that seeks Christians who want spiritual fulfillment outside the walls of the church, in a “God-made setting.”

Next week, she will officiate a backyard wedding. “I would love to do a wedding someday on a baseball diamond, but that’s not happened yet.”

When she’s not helping others, she is training on trails around Boulder.

“Running is very much a spiritual discipline,” Fest says. “I really feel that running and the rhythm of breathing itself is like a prayer. It’s like breathing in the spirit of God.”

It helps to run in times of grief and confusion to clear your head, she says.

She prefers to run near Boulder Creek.

“Water is symbolic of the Christian faith, of baptism and rebirth.”

And when it really counts, say mile 20 of a marathon, faith is something a runner can count on, says Fest, who has run six marathons since 1997.

“About mile 20, Scripture comes to mind: “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not be faint.”

One of her most powerful experiences, however, happened well before mile 20.

It was the day of the New York City Marathon and five weeks after the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Fest was part of a team of clergy that led an ecumenical worship service before the race.

“There was a feeling of spiritual unity as we came together that morning,” Fest says. “It was a really wonderful experience.” She continues to make that faith connection before setting out for a run to start each day.

“I will often think of Scripture,” Fest says. Most days she says these words before heading out on a Boulder trail:

“This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Adventure Rabbi: or (303) 417-6200

RIKMA rabbis: or Jews of the Earth:

Mountain Ministry: or (303) 494-4246.

Spirit River Institute: Offer spiritual wilderness walks, or (303) 666-7626.

Holy places
Do you have a special place where you go to pray, meditate or find solace? Perhaps you hike to a mountaintop that offers a breathtaking view? Or you know of a field of wildflowers or a trickling waterfall that inspires peace of mind. Maybe you go to a spot within your town or city that holds spiritual meaning. Please call Julie Marshall, (303) 473-1305.

Contact Julie Marshall at (303) 473-1305 or
Copyright 2003, The Daily Camera. All Rights Reserved.

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