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
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
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,"
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
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
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.