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Q&A with Adventure Rabbi Jamie Korngold, Author of God in the Wilderness

As we've told you before, Adventure Rabbi Jamie Korngold is earthy. So earthy, in fact, that she leads her services outside. Sometimes she's on skis, sometimes she's on a bike, but she's always on a quest to introduce more Jews to the spiritual power of connecting with nature. Since starting her Adventure Rabbi program in 2001, she's encountered extensive interest in what she does–but not everyone can personally participate in her retreats. That's why she wrote her new book, God in the Wilderness: Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors with the Adventure Rabbi. Designed to fit easily into a backpack or pocket, it's the perfect accompaniment to a spiritually-inspired hike, and you can read an excerpt here. We asked Korngold how she became the Adventure Rabbi. Here's what she had to say:

Which came first, your spiritual relationship with the natural world, or your love of Judaism and Torah? At what point did the two become intertwined? They have always been my twin passions. When I was a kid, I went to great outdoor camps and that was the time in my youth when I felt most accepted for the essence of who I am. I didn't know it then, but I was having what Buber would call I-Thou experiences. I grew up in a very religious family. Our lives centered around our Judaism: My parents helped start the Reform synagogue at which they both taught and were very active. My childhood rabbi, Rabbi Peter Rubenstein, is now at Central Synagogue in NYC and wrote one of the endorsements for my book.
What happens when you take Judaism out of synagogue and into the wilderness? It becomes infused with ruach! It becomes meaningful, accessible, and relevant. In our culture we have so little free time. If Judaism has to compete with outdoor time, it's going to lose. By combining the two, I'm saying to people, "You don't have to change your lifestyle. I recognize that you are going skiing on Shabbat. Okay, I'll go skiing with you. And let me show you how you can make the day holy." I often say, "You know that spiritual experience you have outdoors? Let me show you how it is Jewish." What kinds of transformations have you witnessed in your congregants through their process of worshipping outdoors and seeking God in nature? Jews who had jettisoned their Judaism come back for another look and become happy to identify as Jewish. It's a joy to watch people who were previously either angry about their Judaism or just not interested in it become vibrant members of our community! Tell us about God in the Wilderness. Why did you decide to write the book, and what was the experience like? The premise is that religion was created in the wilderness for a reason. There are certain spiritual lessons that we "get" best outdoors. By combining Biblical passages with descriptions of outdoor adventures, I am able to draw out 8 lessons, and gently nudge the reader to explore a different way of being. I loved writing the book. The secret? I ate a lot of chocolate cake. (See the acknowledgements for details.) I decided to write the book because of the expansive desire by people all around the country to get involved in the Adventure Rabbi program and learn from me. They may not be able to come on our retreats, but they can all read my book.

If ever there was a time for Jews–and all people–to be contemplating the divinity and vulnerability of nature, it's now. What does Judaism teach us about our responsibility to the earth? What are some initial steps that Jews can take toward developing a relationship with nature, and helping to heal the environment? I talk about this a lot in the afterward, so check it out. But for me, the most important message of this book is that if in fact–as I believe–nature does contain a plethora of spiritual portals, then that is yet another reason we must protect the earth.

Read the first chapter of God in the Wilderness here!

Related: Earth Day is a Jewish Holiday

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