do mountain biking, hiking in the desert and the Jewish High
Holidays have in common? If you join "Adventure Rabbi:
A Synagogue Without Walls" this Rosh Hashanah in Grand
Junction, Colorado, you're sure to find out.
might not sound like the kind of Judaism you grew up with,
but according to Rabbi Jamie Korngold, the founder of Adventure
Rabbi, since ancient times Jews have gone to the wilderness
to meet God. "Before there were synagogues, even before
the giving of the Torah," says Korngold, "when Jews
wanted to talk to God they climbed mountains, sought out high
places, wandered in the desert, or sat by rivers."
"A lot of rabbis wonder where their congregants are on
Saturday morning," continues Korngold. "I don't
wonder. I know, because I'm out there with them -- skiing,
hiking and biking. I've had some of my most profound spiritual
moments on mountains."
pauses, a peaceful yet passionate look in her eye that just
the mention of the experience seems to spark. "Everyone
is really busy and time is at a premium. For a lot of Coloradoans,
if the choice on the weekend is between being indoors to 'do
Jewish' or climbing or hiking, Judaism will lose out almost
solution to the conundrum? To Korngold it seems simple: "I
take the spiritual experience people are already having in
the wilderness and show then how it is Jewish," she says.
"70% of the Jews in America are not affiliated with congregations.
My goal is to re-open the door to Judaism in a way that really
speaks to them and is relevant to our outdoor lifestyle."
leading services on skis and snowboards on top of Copper Ski
Resort, to backpacking and chanting Torah at the base of the
Grand Canyon in the spring, perhaps Rabbi Korngold has found
the answer to the common complaint that services seem to be
meaningless and irrelevant. "Our High Holiday services
-- hiking, biking, and praying in the canyon country of western
Colorado -- is a great example of how we use the power of
the wilderness experience to awaken our Judaism," says
Rosh Hashanah, the Adventure Rabbi team has teamed up with
a small Reform congregation in Grand Junction Colorado. Congregants
enjoy the usual series of High Holiday services, but in addition,
Adventure Rabbi guides offer hiking, mountain biking, and
camping before and after services to magnify the awe-inspiring
splendor of the day.
Adventure Rabbi participant Alan Greenberg: "I used to
be a once-a-year Jew. I'd go through the High Holiday services
just because I felt like I had to. I spent the service counting
pages until it would be over. I wouldn't come back to synagogue
until the next year when I would guilt myself into going."
wife Catherine Greener (who he met through Adventure Rabbi)
chimes in: "With Adventure Rabbi I found a way to relate
to Judaism that is meaningful and relevant. The shema prayer
takes on so much meaning when you say it while climbing a
14,000 foot peak with a bunch of people working together step
the Adventure Rabbi model is not so surprising after all.
According to Jewish tradition, the wilderness was where God
gave the Jews the Ten Commandments and the Torah, and was
where a ragtag group of slaves was transformed into the nation
of Israel. Concepts such as our modern court system, the ethical
treatment of animals and a weekly day of rest, stem from this
time of wandering in the desert.
now, with Korngold leading the pack, the descendants of these
ancients are returning to the wilderness once again to find
meaning. (But not for too long -- unlike Moses who didn't
stop to ask for directions and wandered for 40 years in the
desert, Adventure Rabbi's wilderness trips range from a single
afternoon hike to multi-day backpacking trips).
the Adventure Rabbi concept working? Well, if you consider
40 people hiking through the woods on Shabbat, eagerly discussing
the Torah portion of the week, then we guess it's working
Michael Schwartz writes on Arts and Entertainment for Jewsweek