Just past high noon yesterday, Jamie Korngold, aka the Adventure Rabbi, led me up into the hills overlooking Boulder. "Welcome," she said, "to my synagogue."
Korngold has already got a ton of press for her expanding offerings of Jewish wilderness experiences, and it’s easy to see why. She photographs well, answers questions in near-perfect paragraphs, and, well, she’s fun. For Passover, she leads scores of pilgrims into the desert near Moab. Shabbat is for skiing and hiking. Among other things, her bar-mitzvah students learn how to change a flat.
Korngold was an adventurer before she became a rabbi. In her younger years, she was a competitive mogul skiier and an ultra-marathoner, successfully completing the (frankly insane) Leadville 100, a hundred-mile romp through the Colorado mountains which she finished in just under 30 hours. In the late stages of the race, Korngold was hallucinating.
Our hike was mercifully shorter. We talked about the spiritual potential of beautiful places, of which Boulder has no shortage, and I’ll let the video speak on that subject. But one thing the video didn’t get to, which struck me nonetheless, was her use of the term ‘fee for service’ to describe what she does.
In my circles back home, few people employ that term except as a pejorative, as something to define oneself or one’s program against. In this usage, the phrase connotes a consumer model of Judaism, and is practically a synonym for weak engagement.
I think it’s fair to say that most Jewish professional are seeking to intensify Jewish commitment. The communal agenda is relentlessly centered on affiliation, continuity, and meaningfulness, while ‘fee for service’ — in some minds — implies about the same level of commitment to Judaism as to one’s chiropractor.
Korngold talks a lot about meeting Jews where they are. On her website, she fleshes this out even more. Don’t want to go to services every week? We’ll do it twice a month. Rather be on the ski slope on Saturday? We’ll meet you there. Services too long? We’ll keep it brief.
Korngold accepts how far her congregants are prepared to go and she tailors her product accordingly. She’s also not shy about it, which is kind of refreshing. And while she is anything but a typical rabbi, she nevertheless speaks of her followers as "congregants" and performs the expected lifecycle rites.
The breadth vs. depth discussion has been around for a while and I’m not going to pronounce on it here. Suffice it to say, if you’re looking for a clearer example of the former, you could do no better than the Adventure Rabbi.
UPDATE: Here’s video of last week’s hike with the rabbi: