Rabbi brings the synagogue to the outdoors
also featured in San Francisco Sunday Chronicle
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Adventure Rabbi trip to base of Grand Canyon, Spring 2004
Boulder- Rabbi Jamie Korngold has a kind of “you-can-have-your-cake-
and-eat-it-too” approach to conducting her services. She takes the synagogue outdoors.
“In this day and age where free time is at such a premium, many of today’s Jews, if they have to choose between synagogue and the outdoors, synagogue is going to lose out every single time,” she says. “We tell them we know you’re outdoors, just give us 15 minutes of time. It really works.”
Korngold, 38, a one-time Vail ski bum who dubs herself “The Adventure Rabbi,” organizes Jewish travel trips that include backpacking, hiking and skiing. Friday night Shabbat services are held frequently atop Flagstaff Mountain at the Stone Shelter picnic area, followed by a picnic dinner. And on the second Saturday of each month, she conducts services in a natural nook after a three-hour hike on the Mesa trail outside Boulder or, in winter, atop Copper Mountain before skiing.
“Many of us live here because we find the outdoors so spiritually enriching,” she says. “I use the spirituality that people already find and show them how that’s Jewish.”
For the upcoming high Jewish holidays, Korngold will be in Grand Junction to officiate at Rosh Hashanah services at Ohr Shalom, a Reform congregation in the Western Slope town. She will lead mountain biking and hiking trips before and after the services on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
“We’re offering the prayer experience but coupling that with a wilderness experience,” she says.
Most of the people on Korngold’s trips are Jewish, she says, or non-Jews who have partnered with Jews, with an age range of 25 to 55. They are what she calls unaffilated Jews, Jews who have not found a “comfortable” place within the Jewish comunity. “Occasionally we have some non-Jewish people who are curious,” she says.
Explaining her worship services, Korngold says she takes the major prayers from a service and condenses them, then adds English readings based on texts from the wilderness.
“Jewish religion has a rich tradition of reaching God through the outdoors,” she says. “Long before Jews had the Torah, the way they communicated with God was they climbed to high places. We have this ancient tradition we’re actually returning to. Therefore, we have thousands of years of texts that have to do with the wilderness.”
One of the wilderness guides for Korngold’s trips is her husband, Jeff Finkelstein, who designed her website, www.adventurerabbi.org. They recently had their first child.
Korngold, who is affiliated with Boulder’s Congregation Har HaShem, was ordained a Reform rabbi in June 1999 from the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati. She received a bachelor of science degree in natural resources from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., in 1987. She previously worked as an Outward Bound instructor, a massage therapist and street musician in Sapporo, Japan.
The Adventure Rabbi idea hit about three years ago when Korngold was a rabbi in Calgary, Alberta.
Friends of hers from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., had adopted a baby in Romania and wanted her to do a conversion ceremony at the base of the Grand Canyon because that’s where the couple had met. They brought five students from Williams and did a backpacking trip in the canyon, followed by the ceremony.
“It was such a profound experience,” she says. “A lot of them had abandoned their Judaism. I presented it to them in a whole different light. The kids came up with the idea of Adventure Rabbi. It was kind of a joke, like, this was a job for Adventure Rabbi – ‘Adventure Rabbi to the rescue,’ just like ‘Superman to the rescue.’ My husband bought me the domain name as a gift, and we were off to the races.”
Travel editor Mim Swartz can be reached at 303-820-1599 or email@example.com.