A Torah Trek to Find a ‘God Moment’


It’s a Sunday afternoon in midwinter Los Angeles, the sun is sparkling, the temperature is perfect, I’m in one of the most beautiful settings anyone can imagine, and I’m supposed to be talking to God. I’m sitting alone in a lush, grassy field near a rustling brook, mountains surround me, birds are chirping, the smells of nature are excellent and all I can think of is whether I should eat that last bit of leftover lunch that I still have in my backpack.

It is an especially untimely moment to be pondering such a mundane question, because on this day, I’ve joined 14 adults on a daylong excursion in Malibu Creek State Park led by Rabbi Mike Comins, who runs Torah Trek, Spiritual Wilderness Adventures. Whether it’s a one-day exercise for first-timers — like ours is — or a multiday meditative adventure, the idea is to spend time studying Torah, reading, thinking, meditating and seeking a “God experience,” as Comins calls it. We are now at the ultimate moment of the day, the portion called “hitbodedut,” which translates from the Hebrew as “to be alone.”

So I’m on my own, tackling the task of connecting to God, and I’m doing just about anything but. The act of meditation, never my strength, seems particularly contrived for me on this day. Add God to the mix, and my sense of failure multiplies.

A soft wind blows across my face, ruffling my hair ever so slightly. Is that God? A blue jay flits, determined in its search for some unknowable purpose. Is that? I watch as a small biplane flies overhead, and I’m sure that its passengers are feeling more awe than I am, but are they having a close-to-God experience? Up in the sky, do we feel more spiritual? Is it easier to feel God’s presence when we’re above everyone else?

OK, I’ve got about another 20 minutes of solitude to go. So far, I must be completely off track.

I live in the heart of urban Los Angeles in a house that looks out on urban sprawl, with a view, too, of the much-utilized Griffith Park. There is no silence in the city, but I’ve grown used to that. There are trees and a little grass, but not much in my neighborhood. I appreciate the beauty of our Southern California climate, but I rarely feel the transcendence of nature in my daily life. In honor of Tu b’Shevat, in hopes of connecting to a greater sense of our natural world, I’ve come on this hike.

Comins believes that Jewish practice has lost its connection to our ancestors’ roots, which lie, as we all know, in the Torah but also in the connection of the Torah itself to nature, even to the wilderness. Yet, for most of us, as Comins explains at the start of the day, the essential experience of Judaism has become a series of stories and edicts, rather than an experience or a communing. So, through trial and error, and in concert with a small community of fellow spiritual naturalists, he’s attempting to connect the dots.

“If you ask people where they are likely to find a ‘God moment,’ they say in nature,” Comins says in his introduction to the day, which began at 9:30 a.m. with the group of us sitting on dewy grass at the entry to the wilderness park. “If we have this arena where the issue of God is not contrived, and, at the same time, our greatest challenge in Jewish education is finding God, then one plus one is two.”

Comins, 49, grew up in Studio City; he had a classic suburban childhood interspersed with regular family camping trips to Yosemite. When he decided to make aliyah and moved to Israel, he says, he initially considered his backpacking career a thing of the past. He studied to become a Reform rabbi in Israel, and as he sat in front of a library computer screen for days on end, working on his thesis, he says, “I felt less and less God in my life.”

” target=”_blank”>www.torahtrek.com.

 

Choices Snowball for Ski Adventures


Skiers and snowboarders who want vacations with fresh powder have an avalanche of options this winter. Jewish ski trips abound for teens to 40-somethings of all skill levels.

Mammoth and Lake Tahoe will be the setting for a variety of Jewish ski trips, and teens can hit the ditch at local terrain parks through day trips being organized by Orange County’s Merage Jewish Community Center.

Other action can be found in Colorado, where three separate Jewish events are meeting over the next few months. In Europe, Alpine adventures include a French ski school for Jewish teens.

So even if you’re groomed more for the bunny hills than black-diamond thrills, you can still find excitement schmoozing with tribe members during an apr?s ski at one of the following events.

California

Big Bear

The Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County is featuring a teen trip to Bear Mountain for all skill levels of snowboarders and skiers, grades 6-12. Price includes transportation, lift tickets and snacks; equipment rental is available for an additional fee.

Dates: Monday, Jan. 16, 6 a.m.-7 p.m. (The JCC also has a trip to Mountain High in Wrightwood on Feb. 26.)

Cost: $80 (JCC members), $100 (nonmembers)

For more information, call (949) 435-3400.

Mammoth

Jski has three trips to Mammoth this season. Aimed at 20- to 40-something singles, the price tag includes roundtrip transportation via bus and two-nights lodging with a fireplace, color TV and Jacuzzi. Saturday evening features a wine and hors d’oeuvres party. Beginners welcome.

Dates: Jan. 20-22, Feb. 24-26 and March 17-19

Cost: $189

R.S.V.P. to Howard at (818) 342-9508 or JskiLa@aol.com at least two weeks before trip.

Lake Tahoe

Those who want a Jewish skiing package that includes some Texas Hold ‘Em and resort-style entertainment should consider the Lake Tahoe Jewish Singles Ski Week. Sponsored by United Jewish Singles Alliance and Travel Jewish, this trip for 20- to 40-somethings features six nights at the Embassy Suites, located in the heart of Tahoe’s casino action near the base of the Heavenly Ski Resort’s gondola.

The package also features transfers to and from Reno; a welcome reception; cooked-to-order breakfasts; daily skiing, including three days of lift tickets at Heavenly and one day at Squaw; apres ski events each evening; a lake cruise party; Shabbat service; roommate matching; and a farewell club dance party.

Date: Feb. 26-March 4.

Cost: $1,567. A $699 single supplement fee is available for guests who don’t want a roommate.

For more information, visit www.ujsa.com or www.traveljewish.com/uc07.shtml, or call (877) 900-7022.

Jski’s own Lake Tahoe trip features roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles International, John Wayne International or San Diego International to Reno/Tahoe International; transfer to and from Reno; three-nights lodging (double occupancy) at the Best Western-Timber Cove Lodge; lift tickets to Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra Tahoe; round-trip shuttle to and from the slopes; and breakfast.

Dates: March 9-12

Cost: $639

R.S.V.P. to Howard at (818) 342-9508 or JskiLa@aol.com at least two weeks before the trip.

Colorado

Crested Butte

Amazing Journeys and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh are co-sponsoring the third annual National Jewish Singles Ski Week at the full-service Grand Lodge Hotel at this rustic, kitschy destination. The trip includes a seven-night stay (double occupancy), roundtrip transfers from Gunnison Aiport, five days of lift passes, a Super Bowl party, complimentary apr?s ski, dinner and pizza party, Shabbat services and a mountain tour.

Dates: Feb. 5-12

Cost: $1,249

For more information, visit www.amazingjourneys.net or call (800) 734-0493.

Steamboat Springs

Mosaic Outdoor Clubs of America brings you its sixth annual Winter Events and Ski Trip, which is expected to draw club members from across the United States and Canada. The trip features a seven-night stay at the Timber Run Condominiums (three-bedroom condos are located 500 yards from the gondola); roundtrip Hayden Airport transportation; welcome dinner/hot tub party; evening tubing; sleigh ride, rodeo demonstration and gourmet dinner at cattle ranch; catered Shabbat dinner and games night; and mountaintop Western barbecue with dancing. Five-day lift ticket package is an additional $325. Rentals not included.

Dates: Feb. 26-March 5

Cost: $999-$1,199

For more information, visit www.mosaicoutdoor.org/ski, call (703) 471-8921 or e-mail ski2006@mosaicoutdoor.org.

Canada

Jewish Heritage Tours is sponsoring the family-friendly Chanukah Glatt Kosher Ski Vacation at the Hotel Le Chantecler in Quebec. The package includes skiing on the resort’s 23 pistes, sleigh rides, snowmobiling and ice skating. The hotel features a synagogue, day camp, health and beauty center, indoor pool (with separate swimming hours) and a video arcade. Professor Elliot Wolffson and Rabbi Dr. Nosson Dovid Rabinowich will be the scholars in residence.

Dates: Dec. 27-Jan. 2

Cost: Call for rates.

For more information, call (718) 796-3199 or e-mail jewisheritagetours@hotmail.com.

Italy

Join more than 100 Jewish singles in the Italian Dolomites as the British Ski and Sun Club takes its 10th annual trip. This year marks the club’s first trip to the Val di Sole ski area, which features the resorts Madonna di Campiglio, Folgarida and Marilleva. Price includes flights and transfers from Gatwick to Verona, accommodations in a twin room, half board, lift passes and travel to the slopes.

Dates: March 4-11.

Cost: $1,225

For more information, visit www.skiandsunclub.com or call (44) 7887-710150.

Austria

Join JC-Life for Jewish Ski Week in Austria, a.k.a. Absolut Ski. More than 200 young Jews (18-35) from Europe and the United States will join this legendary weeklong ski experience at the resorts of Gerlitzen and Nassfeld in Velden am Wörthersee. Package includes lift passes, kosher food (mashgiach Rabbi Abe Reichman from Jerusalem), programs and lectures and nightly parties.

Dates: Dec. 22-29

Cost: $530 (airfare not included)

For more information, visit www.jc-life.de or e-mail info@jc-life.de.

France

Camp Espa ña Ski is the international ski camp for Jewish youth (13-20) located in Ch√Ętel on the border of France and Switzerland. Campers will spend more than 20 hours in ski instruction, studying with teachers from École du Ski Francias. The camp provides kosher French cuisine in a chalet that features its own disco. New Year’s Eve will be celebrated in the village with fireworks, Alpenhorns, torchlight ski descents and hot chocolate.

Price includes full board, ski instruction and rental, lift passes and round-trip transportation from Geneva Airport or Thonon les Bains railway station in France.

Dates: Dec. 25-Jan. 1

Cost: $1,004 (airfare not included)

For more information, visit www.campespana.com/ski.