Adventure Rabbi in the News:
Washington Jewish Weekly
A chuppah on the slopes
by Pearl Salkin
If your rabbi told you to take a hike, you’d probably be insulted. But for some fearless followers of our faith in Boulder, Colo., that advice would be a welcome invitation to embark on an invigorating Shabbat excursion that is guaranteed to give them a shot of Rocky Mountain chai.
Of course, Abraham, Moses and other forefathers also found holiness in the hills, deserts and valleys. Our foremothers could have found it in those places, too. But somebody had to stay home to cook and take care of the kids.
Back in Bubbe’s day, Jews went to the mountains, too. Usually, the Catskills. But our grandparents’ motives were a lot different. They were there for the food and entertainment, and possibly to meet their mate at a singles weekend.
Borsht Belt comedians could count on getting a big laugh by defining Jewish outdoor gear as a pair of prescription sunglasses and a good book
A couple of generations later, we realize that a sedentary lifestyle marked by overeating and under exercising is not funny. So more and more Jews of all shapes, sizes and stripes are learning that life need not be a spectator sport.
They are participating. They are biking and hiking along rugged routes, climbing to cloud-covered summits, paddling through whitewater rapids and across bottomless lakes — doing all those daring things that were in Bubbe’s worst nightmare.
By pushing their bodies to the limit, many are discovering an elevated sense of spirituality. The breathtaking scenery of the Rockies kicks that up a notch. And when you add the presence of Adventure Rabbi, pursuing physical fitness, engaging in sports and practicing their faith are a natural fit and a lot of fun.
While the title might conjure up visions of a caped cartoon character, this Jewish superhero is the real deal. Rabbi Jamie Korngold doesn’t wear tights and doesn’t have fights with evildoers. But her love of Judaism and the outdoors is boundless, and it’s bringing back many Jews who have wandered away from the flock.
“Being outdoors awakens my spirituality,” said Korngold. And she went on to explain that being able to offer a taste of Torah to unaffiliated Jews on the snowy slopes and tricky trails of God’s beautiful backyard is such a blessing.
The path that led Korngold to her pulpit in the aspens and pines had some intercontinental twists. Starting out in suburban Scarsdale, N.Y., Korngold, an athletic young woman who bicycled across the United States at the age of 16, received a bachelor of science degree in natural resources from Cornell University in 1987.
Al fresco professions soon followed — wilderness instructor with Outward Bound and Woodswoman; cook on a boat and cab driver in Alaska; and a summer stint as a street musician in Japan. To round out the resume, you should know that Korngold was also a mountain guide, a sushi chef and an emergency medical technician. Three years of private practice in Vail as a certified massage therapist is another in the series of unorthodox experiences that preceded Korngold’s enrollment at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, where she received a masters of arts in Hebrew letters in June, 1998 and rabbinical ordination a year later.
Joining and often leading a lay-led congregation in Vail revealed her calling. “Members of the congregation encouraged me to continue my Jewish studies and become a rabbi,” said Korngold.
And after completing her course of study, which included serving as student rabbi, chaplain intern, teacher and tutor at a variety of venues, Korngold took the helm of Temple B’nai Tikvah, a Reform congregation in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Being the full-time spiritual leader for more than 200 families was rewarding, but it left little time for Korngold’s other love. And when two friends, a couple who had met while working in the Grand Canyon, asked her to perform a conversion/ baby-naming ceremony for their adopted daughter there, she thought, “This is a job for Adventure Rabbi!”
With the help of a few friends, adventurerabbi.com was launched and Adventure Rabbi, Inc., with Korngold as CSO — chief spiritual officer — became a business last year. Korngold, a competitive skier and triathlete, moved back to Colorado and now offers what she calls “a la carte services.”
With a motto of “Come, let the wilderness awaken your Judaism,” Korngold invites subscribers of her electronic newsletter to monthly Shabbat hikes and services. She welcomes the opportunity to perform wilderness weddings, unconventional conversions, back country b’nai mitzvah and baby namings and more. From the mountains to the prairies — she has scheduled ceremonies in the desert and the deepest part of the Everglades, too. And she organizes and directs retreats, canoe trips and backpacking treks for Jewish groups and individuals.
Thanks to word of mouth, write-ups in newspapers and magazines, and Internet chatter, inquiries are pouring in from prospective brides and grooms. It seems there are many energetic Jews who have found the perfect outdoor setting for their wedding, but locating a rabbi who is willing to go that extra mile — on foot or skis– to some remote site can be tough.
Allison Horovitz, cultural anthropologist, formerly a researcher at the Jane Goodall Institute, an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School, an outdoor expedition journalist and currently a Pilates (total body conditioning method) instructor, grew up in a traditional Jewish home in Dallas and Montreal.
She attended Hebrew school and became a bat mitzvah. But she hasn’t spent much time in a synagogue since then.
“I feel so spiritual in a wilderness setting, with outdoorsy people. I don’t have that connection sitting in a synagogue,” said Horovitz.
So when she became engaged to outdoor filmmaker Jason Dittmer, Horovitz’s friend in Vail sent her a newspaper article about Adventure Rabbi. Horovitz called the rabbi, and then made the four-hour drive to Boulder to meet her and discuss prospective wedding plans. Korngold’s enthusiasm and wonderful sense of humor convinced the couple that she was the right rabbi for the job.
More long trips for hikes, lunches, pre-wedding consultation and ceremony-crafting with the rabbi followed, and the big day took place outdoors last June in Aspen at an elevation of 10,500 feet.
The Horovitz-Dittmer nuptials were held at Elk Mountain Lodge, a rustic yet elegant property that is relatively easy to reach. Out of about 250 guests, only two required medical attention for altitude sickness. But “Bammy” Anne Nadler, the bride’s 89-year-old bubbe from Montreal, fared rather well, and really enjoyed the simcha.
Some couples choose to have a more intimate ceremony — the bride, the groom, a couple of chuppah holders and the rabbi. That works well when the chosen spot is a mountain top in winter.
While many shuls offer reduced dues and other incentives to try to attract new members, that won’t cut it with this mountain crowd and the hundreds of thousands of other unaffiliated Jews across the country.
Getting some people to sit (and stand and sit) in a synagogue is an uphill struggle.
Can Adventure Rabbi lead them to a new promised land? Stay tuned.