- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 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, Miss 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 Miss Korngold — Colorado’s self-proclaimed “Adventure Rabbi.”

She 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,” the 40-year-old said. “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, Miss Korngold incorporated the canyon’s wondrous rocks, water and plants into the Jewish prayers. Many of the young people had never heard the rabbi’s take on their religion.

“These kids just came away like, ‘Wow, I’m totally jazzed. I want to learn more,’” she said. “I came out and I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Now, she holds the 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 goal, Miss Korngold said, is not simply to move a service outdoors, although some traditional aspects remain. Often on hikes, she or someone else will carry a paper Torah, shrunken in size and placed in a waterproof bag for safekeeping.

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 try later.

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

“We need to find different entry points,” he said. “We need to try new things.”

Miss Korngold’s emphasis on the surrounding environment can be traced back to Judaism’s deep connection to nature and wilderness, but must not overwhelm other important aspects of the religion, Mr. Bayme said.

“In terms of the actual content, Judaism is not whatever you make of it,” he said.

A successful program also must act as an entry point to serious study and commitment — not merely entertain.

“Don’t substitute the frosting for the cake. The cake really has to be serious Jewish engagements,” Mr. Bayme said.

Miss 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.

Rebecca Dennett chose Miss Korngold for her bat mitzvah because she wanted the service to reflect her values and personality more deeply.

The event was held in September at a guest ranch in the Colorado Rockies, a favorite place for the teenager though far from the family’s Northern Virginia home. Horses were an important part of the ceremony, with Rebecca riding while wearing a pink cowboy hat, jeans and cowboy boots. Other aspects were more traditional.

“I wanted something that was going to be personal and really mean something to me,” Rebecca said. “I also had more control over what I was able to do. I did a lot more than what I would have at home.”

For James Brodsky, of Denver, his Estes Park wedding and other events held by Miss Korngold have given him and his wife, Gwen Jacobs Brodsky, a chance to reconnect to Judaism.

“My experiences with rabbis had been as more remote figures, whereas Rabbi Korngold was strapping on skis beside us,” Jacobs Brodsky said.

Which is exactly what Miss Korngold did after her short service in February in the mountains, putting her service handouts and notes in her backpack and gliding away with members of her congregation.

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