Rabbi Jamie Korngold
Rabbi, Adventure Judaism Congregation
Please tell me about your Jewish journey.
I grew up at Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, NY, with Rabbi Peter Rubinstein. My dad wrote services and taught the bar mitzvah kids and my mom was the president; it was ripe with wonderful memories for me. After college, I moved to Vail, CO, where I skied full-time for seven years and raced on the Telemark Mogul circuit. I was involved at my congregation in Vail, and the lay leader who had been leading services asked me to help. The congregation was being approached by a lot of rabbis who wanted to work for them, but they wanted an insider, and they asked me to go to rabbinical school.
I went to Los Angeles and shadowed Rabbi Sandy Reagan, one of my childhood rabbis, and Rabbi Deborah Bronstein, who is now a really dear friend, and then decided to apply to HUC-JIR. I served as rabbi in Calgary, Canada, following Ordination.
During my time in Canada, I was asked to go to the Grand Canyon with a dear friend to officiate the adoption and brit bat ceremony of her daughter. It was a remarkable experience. It was an outing trip for Williams College, and there were a lot of Jewish students on the trip. I did the brit bat service on the banks of the Colorado River, in the bottom of the Grand Canyon — imagine that — where I combined the wisdom of nature with Judaism and they were like, “Wait, we didn’t know Judaism could be like this! This isn’t what we’re getting at home.” I was able to connect nature and Judaism, and the idea of Adventure Rabbi was born. The students on the trip actually came up with the name “Adventure Rabbi;” it was a joke like a superhero name. Anytime there was a hard river to cross or a hard rock face to climb, they would say, “This is a job for the Adventure Rabbi!” There was a cape and a song too!
We spent a week backpacking in the Grand Canyon talking about Judaism as I know it, which is a really interactive, environmentally sensitive religion. When we came out of the canyon, we kind of all changed our lives. I moved to Boulder and started the Adventure Rabbi program. Bethie Miller, another HUC-JIR alum, was on the trip and went to rabbinical school soon after. In 2001 I started the Adventure Rabbi program, which has been around for 20 years now. We just started a base in NYC which is super exciting, and it’s been an incredible way to engage people in Judaism who otherwise wouldn’t have been engaged.
What makes your congregation so innovative and special, and how do you reach people who don’t feel comfortable at traditional congregations?
We do a lot of advertising on Google and Facebook. Many of the people I bring into my program don’t necessarily know what “Shabbat” means, but they want to have a bar or bat mitzvah when their child turns thirteen. One of my favorite stories is a mother who told her son, “We’re Jewish and we’re going to enroll you in a bar mitzvah program,” and he replied, “I thought we were Democrats?” During the year that I work with my students, I ask a lot of them. It’s so transformative not just for them, but for their entire family.
How are you looking to build and grow your congregation and your work?
We are putting a lot of energy into our new base in New York City, led by our first Urban Adventure Rabbi, Rabbi Jessica Lenza. She is incredible! I’m nearing my retirement — not there yet but getting close! — so it’s an important time for us to get other Adventure Rabbis on the ground. We’ve learned that the “adventure” doesn’t have to be a physical outdoor activity, which has expanded what we’re able to do.
While the “adventure” here in Colorado includes climbing mountains, snow shoeing, and camping in the desert, Rabbi Lenza’s Adventure B’nai Mitzvah Class in New York City takes the same values and explores them differently. They take their environment and use that for their adventures. They go to Ellis Island and learn about Jewish history, they climb the Statue of Liberty, and they learn about the connection between Broadway and Judaism. We use the local environment to create an adventure .
We are in conversation with some congregations in New York who to partner to create innovative learning options. For example, we can run an Adventure B’nai Mitzvah Class for their synagogue while they can handle the Hebrew education and ceremonies in their own style.
Our online program is, not surprisingly, also growing. We’ve been teaching online since 2001 and have had students from all over the world. When the pandemic came along, we were already set up to do online education, but suddenly it clicked in people’s minds that kids all over the country could take a class with me in Boulder. So now we just have a lot more people that want to do it.
How did you come to work with fellow HUC-JIR alumni and do you collaborate with any other alumni?
Two HUC-JIR-ordained rabbis work with me: Rabbi Lynn Goldsmith and Rabbi Evan Yakar. We work so easily together because we share a common education — common vocabulary, common skills, and so on. I’ve done a lot of scholar-in-residences with HUC-JIR alumni, people who remember me from school, and people who have me come to their congregation. And because I’ve written so many books, religious schools have me come in and have me read my Sadie and Ori books. Having written kids and adults books has been really helpful for collaboration.
Will you share a few favorite memories from your time at HUC-JIR — stateside and during the Year-In-Israel?
Our Cincinnati campus did so many things collectively. It was a lovely group feeling when I was there; it was a lot of fun. I made amazing friends and had an incredible community. My classmate’s son is in my bar mitzvah program right now. One of my other classmates and I are in a monthly rabbi meeting together.
The most profound experience I had in Jerusalem was being part of a hiking group. Rabbi Mike Comins, who was in the Israeli smicha program, ran a group called Ruach ha Midbar, Spirit of the Wilderness, and he used to take us on hiking and camping trips. We had unforgettable experiences. There were so many places where my understanding of Judaism got started, but he had a very strong influence. I owe a lot to Mike.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I’m in between seasons right now because I’m an avid skier (I skied over 60 days this year!). I’m also a big mountain biker. We’re now in the shoulder season where a lot of resorts are no longer open and the mountain bike trails aren’t quite dry enough. Basically, I like to be active outdoors in nature.
For more about Adventure Rabbi visit www.AdventureRabbi.org