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A faithful change of scenery

Meeting congregants where they are, the "Adventure Rabbi" holds Shabbat services on ski slopes and hiking trails.

Published May 6, 2006

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. - Nothing about the rabbi's message was unusual: Moses and the burning bush and the congregation's need to stop and listen for God in their daily lives.

Nothing else, though, was typical about Rabbi Jamie Korngold's Shabbat service.

Instead of driving or walking to a neighborhood temple, the congregation took a ski lift to the top of one of Copper Mountain's snowy runs, where an area had been marked with a sign held up by two skis stuck in the powder. The group wore heavy jackets, gloves and helmets. The snow crunched beneath their ski or snowboard boots.

And instead of leading a long service inside, Korngold kept her message short on the sunny February day, understanding her congregation's desire to hit the slopes.

Unusual for almost every other rabbi, but not Korngold - Colorado's self-proclaimed "Adventure Rabbi."

Korngold is a Reform Jewish rabbi specializing in performing bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and other ceremonies and services outdoors. Her goal is to connect the beauty of her state - and beyond - to Judaism and reconnect young people to their faith.

"I always joke that the rabbis are all wondering where their congregants are on Saturday. I know where they are, they're skiing," said Korngold, 40. "What I say is, you know what, you don't have to change your lifestyle. You're going skiing on Saturday. Fine, I'll go skiing with you. Give me 15 minutes and let me show you how that ski day can be holy."

The Adventure Rabbi effort started in 2001, after two friends asked her to perform a conversion and adoption ceremony for their child at the Grand Canyon, which they considered a special place. A group of the husband's college students went along, most of whom had given up on their Jewish faith.

Instead of the standard ceremonies, Korngold incorporated the canyon's wondrous rocks, water and plants into the Jewish prayers. Many of the young people had never heard Korngold's take on their religion.

"These kids just came away like, 'Wow, I'm totally jazzed. I want to learn more,' " Korngold said. "I came out and I said, 'This is what I want to do.' "

Now, Korngold holds Shabbat services centered on skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. The skiing services usually last less than half an hour and involve prayers, a short message and singing, while the hikes take about three hours.

The rabbi compared her services to a "time-release vitamin" that will engage the congregation throughout the day. She may give them something to think about on the ski lift or a meditation to reflect on later.

Korngold's work is just one way Jewish leaders are trying to find innovative ways to engage young people in the faith - amid concerns that youths are walking away from their heritage, said Steven Bayme, national director of the Contemporary Jewish Life department for the American Jewish Committee.

Korngold doesn't expect all who participate in her services to become dedicated members of a synagogue. More often, her participants walk away with a more positive attitude about and a greater connection to Judaism, she said.

[Last modified May 6, 2006, 06:07:02]

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