The Spirit Moves Her

Jamie Korngold, the Adventure Rabbi, seeks the sacred in God's outdoor gym.

"In place of tefillah" -- prayer -- "I invite you to go off to a space of your own and just pray or meditate," she suggests. "If you happen to notice something nice in your surroundings that you can share with us, that'd be great. You don't have to, though," she adds. "It's no biggie."

"I noticed my breathing changes when I come out here," one woman reports when everyone has returned. "It slows down."

"I noticed a small pine tree growing out of a tiny crack in a rock," a man adds. "I figure, if it can grow there, I can make some changes in my life."

Saturday the rabbi worked out: Jamie Korngold, aka the Adventure Rabbi.
Saturday the rabbi worked out: Jamie Korngold, aka the Adventure Rabbi.

Jamie points out the complexly textured forest floor. "This is the carpet we live on," she says. "It reminds me that we're often looking for the big moments in life, when the truly important things are the small ones."

"I like our synagogue," she says. "Although the seating is a little rough."

On the way down the mountain, the group spreads out, dividing into clusters of two and three hikers. Joanna Tessler is satisfied. "I love the Adventure Rabbi," she says. "She fills a void that a lot of Jews of my generation are looking to fill. I live in Denver, but it's not really a shlep up here. I didn't have to shower and put on lipstick this morning. I'm not a hard-core nature girl -- I'm from Miami -- but there's something so unpretentious and real about this. The combination of Jewish spirituality with mountains and scenery and this beautiful-smelling air -- it's a no-brainer."

"I believe in the Hillel model -- bringing Judaism to where the Jews are," Jamie says. "So, Judaism hasn't worked for you? Okay, come on an adventure with us and see if we can't get you interested in another type of Jew. It can be a spiritual adventure. But it can also be a physical adventure. If I can plant a seed -- 'Oh! Snowshoeing is Jewish?' -- that would be worth it."

Similar Shabbat services are held one Saturday a month in the winter, too, at Jamie's schussing synagogue, Copper Mountain. Generally, people gather after a morning of skiing on a mid-mountain deck around noon, and the rabbi holds a brief -- very brief -- service. "It's quick, so people shouldn't have to miss too many turns," she says.

The approach can work on the unlikeliest of believers. "I asked my father what his strongest God moment was," Jamie recalls. "Understand, this is a man who goes to shul every week. And he told me it was when he and my mother were up in Alaska, and they came over a ridge, and Denali was right there in front of them. ("It seemed so close I could touch it," Robert recalls.) I mean, here is a man raised in Forest Hills, going to synagogue in Queens and doesn't walk on uneven surfaces. And this was his most religious moment?"

It's definitely not for everyone. Many people, she admits, will always need a church or cathedral or synagogue to be spiritually inspired. But sometimes there is sun and snow and trees and blue sky and sweat, and that is God, too.

Molly Goldsmith is convinced. "Next year," she says, "I'm going to spend the holidays in the woods."

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