The Kabbalah of Skiing

Spirituality of Outdoor Winter Sports

Spiritual Uplift: Religious education programs give outdoors enthusiasts something to think about while they’re on the chairlift.
Dani E. Go
Spiritual Uplift: Religious education programs give outdoors enthusiasts something to think about while they’re on the chairlift.

By Anna Goldenberg

Published February 18, 2014, issue of February 21, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It turns out that I’ve underestimated the spiritual importance of chairlifts.

Give people a Rorschach test with an Austria-shaped ink stain (a spoon tilted to the right with an oversized bowl and a short handle), and skiing is likely to be among the terms associated with my alpine native country. Every winter holiday while I was growing up, my family would fill several suitcases with thermal underwear and we would travel west, from the top right corner of the bowl, where Vienna is located, to the beginning of the handle, or mountainous Salzburg.

Never much of an athlete, I saw skiing as one of the few national duties I had to fulfill (watching “Sissi,” a three-part movie screened every Christmas on TV that offers a heavily romanticized depiction of the life of Austria’s former empress, played by Romy Schneider, was another one). But I always looked forward to the breaks. They came in the form of chairlift rides. Among my favorite activities on the 10-minute trip up the hill were: eating the chocolate my aunt had stuffed in the pockets of my skiing jacket, singing Beatles songs off-key with my cousins, and shouting ‘Mama’ or ‘Papa,’ and seeing if any of the people skiing on the slopes underneath me would reply.

It came as somewhat of a surprise when I recently learned that there are more constructive things to do on the chairlift — like learning about Judaism and strengthening my Jewish identity.

Joshua Segal, a skiing instructor and retired rabbi of Congregation Betenu in Amherst, N.H., offers a program called Ski Kabbalah. On the chairlift ride up, Segal gives his participants a task related to kabbalistic concepts, to be performed while skiing. He says that elements of the Tree of Life, the central mystical concept of Kabbalah, correspond with parts of the human body, and thus kabbalistic concepts such as balance could be directly translated into skiing.

“For example, if you were to take away one thing, what do you have to do to compensate?” he asked. I always dreaded when skiing instructors demanded that I go without sticks, but Segal told me that he only takes skiers who are able to meet these sorts of challenges anyway.

Segal is not the only one who offers spiritually enlightening alternatives to munching on half-frozen chocolate bars while dangling in midair. “Shabbat on Skis,” available at two ski resorts, Copper Mountain in Colorado, and Heavenly Mountain in California, is the brainchild of Jamie Korngold, also known as the “Adventure Rabbi” and the author of several books, including “God in the Wilderness” published by Random House in 2008.

She meets with her participants once a month on a Saturday morning, skis with them for two hours, and then leads a 15-minute service in a “beautiful little shelter” at noon.

“I try to give people something to think about on the chairlift,” Korngold, who lives in Boulder, said. “Sometimes it’s the idea of how to make this day, Shabbat, different from yesterday.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.