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On the Trail

Hiking with God as your forest ranger

God in the Wilderness: Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors with the Adventure Rabbi (Doubleday, $11.95), by Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold, is a trail guide through the gorges and ridgelines of teaching Torah.

In her self-titled role of Adventure Rabbi, Jamie Korngold guides groups up mountains and across frozen lakes, creating opportunities for individuals to tune into God’s presence in the world and in their lives. Drawing on her experience in Jewish outdoor education and environmental science, and invoking the words of biblical and rabbinic sources, she maps out a path to heightened consciousness of the natural world, our sacred texts and our souls. As she notes, “That place of awe, from which our contemplation of God begins, awaits us in the nooks and crannies of the natural world. Therefore we must seek them out, soak them in, and care for them.”

An avid runner, skier and hiker, seven years ago Korngold boldly traded congregational life for the expansive sanctuary of the wilderness. She tells the story of her unique rabbinic journey and the truths she has unearthed along the way. From a conversion ceremony at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to a risky river crossing with a group of hikers, she offers fresh commentary on the miracles and mandates of the Torah, putting the mountain back at the center of Sinai. “Moses climbed the mountain, step by step, until he stood atop the craggy desert peak, its red rocks jutting upward toward heaven.” Along the way, she provides picturesque descriptions of pastoral and personal moments on varied terrain and in her home base of Boulder, Colorado.

In her adventure rabbinate, Korngold is committed to reaching the 70 percent of American Jews who are spiritually seeking, but unaffiliated with synagogues. Amidst our dizzying culture of consumption, Korngold’s Torah persuades us to breathe and let the holy creations around us resonate within. “As we look outward to the wilderness, we look inward and reawaken to what is essential in our lives, to the core of our being.” Awed by the uncontainable momentum of avalanches and river rapids, she points to the power that we gain in accepting our limitations. Each chapter offers a different twist on the promise that when we are present in the world, when we take the time to look at it and look after it, it will hold and inspire us.

With poignant storytelling and a keen sense of humor, God in the Wilderness offers an invigorating look at Judaism, which “began in the desert, by mountains and streams.” Korngold taps into the infinite potential of Torah to generate meaning and nourishment for every generation. She gracefully synthesizes the poetry of traditional texts, teachings of theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel and moments of revelation in the great outdoors to blaze a distinctly Jewish path to becoming an integrated spiritual being.

Anne R. Lewis is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.