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University of Colorado Boulder Program in Jewish Studies

“Mom! Can’t We Do Something Different for the High Holidays?”

“My daughter keeps badgering me to do something different, so I did a Google search on alternative High Holidays and found Adventure Judaism.” explained the exasperated mother on the phone. “What can you tell me?”

I described our High Holiday event, which combines the three pillars of Judaism, nature, and community. I said, “We hike on the beautiful trails of Camp Granite Lake in Coal Creek Canyon. In this setting, we draw inspiration from nature and the strength of the community.”

“So give me the run down,” she asked.

Rosh Hashanah in the Rockies

First: imagine the setting. You drive only 30-minutes from South Boulder or Golden, to arrive at Camp Granite Lake, a gorgeous camp at over 9,000 feet, where the aspen are golden and the lake shimmers under the clear blue sky.

You check-in and are greeted by our friendly event coordinator Annie O’Driscoll. If you’ve been here before, no doubt she remembers you and welcomes you joyfully. If you are new, she makes sure you feel welcome, introduces you to some other people, and gets you settled.

The Camp Granite Lake staff directs you to your cabin or to the campground, or if you are heading home later that night, simply orients you to the grounds.

Then at dinner time, we all gather in the big hall for Chef Steve’s famous Rosh Hashanah feast with matzah ball soup, challah rolls, brisket, tsimmes, and kugels. There are options for vegetarian, lactose-intolerant, gluten-free (preference but not allergy) nut-free (but not allergy), high-protein and kosher-style (but not strict kosher).

Next, its service time and the Big Hall is converted into a welcoming synagogue. The guitar music fills the room and the visual service on the big screens enables everyone to look up instead of down at prayer books. We all join together in song and poetry and feel the inspiration and strength of being part of a community.

Thirty minutes into the service, the kiddos head off with educator Amber Gitter to enjoy some kid-only space. They play holiday-oriented games, dip apples in honey, and enjoy crafting. Meanwhile, the teens and adults are with Rabbi Jamie Korngold, who shares some words of Jewish wisdom and thoughts for the year.

Alternative High Holidays

Following the service, its campfire time! We head to our bonfire circle, awed by the majesty of the stars overhead. Who knew there could be so many stars so close to home? What a great time to relax and meet some new friends! We engage in conversation with people we have just met or those we have known for a while. Somehow, if you just step up and lean in, it’s a bit easier in this setting to meet new people. Maybe it’s just because the Rabbi told us we could and should! Maybe, we just needed “permission.”

In the morning, we gather for breakfast provided by the camp, and those who went home for the night roll in for the morning experience. Now Rabbi Jamie leads us on a gentle hike through the majestic forest of Camp Granite Lake. We wind through the woods to overlooks, where we listen to Ori Korngold and Jonathan Ropa majestically call out on the shofar. “Tekkiah! Shevarim! Teruah!” The ancient blasts travel through time, connecting us to the past -to our own past and to the Jewish past.

Finally, we come to the lake where we participate in tashlich, letting go of those things we are ready to be done with. Then the kids go off with Amber for their own program as they learn about Rosh Hashanah in a manner designed just for them. Now the adults take a little quiet time, each on our own to reflect and sit. Finally, we exhale.

When Rabbi Jamie gathers us again, we head over to an outdoor amphitheater for our morning service, which is again filled with guitar music and poetry.

Finally, the kids come back and the whole group gathers for the grand finale – the Torah reading. We make a massive circle next to the lake, standing shoulder to shoulder, and Rabbi Jamie unscrolls the entire Torah. There we stand, all of us together, holding the story of our people in our hands, all of us together. The lake is reflecting the blue sky, the golden aspens are shimmering beside us, we sing Hebrew words, and we stand, together.

And then the Torah readers come up one by one – Marlin Kropp, an intern in our religious school and a graduate of our Adventure B’nai Mitzvah Class, Johnny Stanzione, also a graduate of our Adventure B’nai Mitzvah Class, and Ori Korngold, the Rabbi’s daughter, age 11, a student in our Girls’ Time program. What a beautiful moment of pride for all of us.

And then, that’s it. We say farewell and head home with a new sense of peace and contentment. We’ve made new friends and reconnected with nature and Judaism. What a way to start the year.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Prep

About Rabbi Jamie Korngold

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