September 21, 2019

Rabbi Judy Greenfeld on ShaHike, Fitness and Where to Find Great Vegetarian Food in L.A.

Photos from the ShaHike. Photos courtesy of Megan Bennett

Rabbi Judy Greenfeld believes in the power of prayer, movement and nature. That’s the concept behind the Shabbat hike – or “ShaHike” – she led in March — welcoming not only members from her Nachshon Minyan congregation but also people of other affiliations and faiths.

By popular demand, Rabbi Judy is offering a second ShaHike on Saturday, June 15th. Participants will meet at 9:30 a.m. at a location to be announced. The hike is appropriate for all fitness levels.  The theme for discussion for this ShaHike is “Solidarity/Empowerment/Inclusion,” and Rabbi Judy will touch on topics such as reaching across the boundaries of faith, supporting the LGBTQ+ community – June is Pride month– and balancing faith and fear in the face of terrorist acts.

I conducted Q&A with Rabbi Judy– the founder and spiritual leader of the Nachshon Minyan in Encino – about ShaHike and more.

Jewish Journal: How would you describe the ShaHike to someone who did not attend the first one?

Rabbi Judy Greenfeld: The ShaHike is a real hike and prayer experience led by a rabbi, a policeman and a doctor on a Saturday morning starting at 10:00. It is an opportunity to celebrate Shabbat in nature while hiking. The experience of hiking is natural when it comes to understanding prayer.

A few years ago I went on this spiritual walk that I had heard so much about, called the Camino de Santiago trail located in Spain’s far northwest. It was an ancient pilgrimage walk that many people underwent and there were claims that it was transformational. I could see how much of a bonding experience occurred between people, and equally, what a powerful bonding experience I had to nature and the beauty and simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other. Every day, I felt my nervous system reboot, and my perspective change and elevate. It was then that I realized how similar this experience was to my ancestors who made pilgrimages to the Holy Temple for the 3 major festivals.

The experience of hiking can be inherently holy, especially if you have an “intent to be mindful” and to connect to your higher self. After all, everywhere you look is the fingerprint of God in Nature. What better Temple environment can you imagine, seeing the walls God creations?

Photos courtesy of Megan Bennett.

JJ: So where did the ShaHike event idea come from?

RJG: The ShaHike came from many years of wondering how I could help congregants understand the “feeling” that is possible with prayer. It is literally a spiritual workout.

By synchronizing the experience of body mind and soul, listening to breath and footsteps and seeing the beautiful early morning sunrise, the prayers open up the group’s understanding of what the prayers were trying to evoke on a deeper level.

JJ: Have you observed Shabbat your whole life?

RJG: Yes, but as a Conservative Jew who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, it was not as restrictive as Orthodox observation of Shabbat. We always had Friday night candle lighting and Shabbat dinner. We sometimes went to synagogue. However, Saturday we did not go to synagogue unless it was the High Holydays.

JJ: ShaHike aside, what are you currently working on?

RJG: The ShaHike is just one program in the Judaism and Wellness initiatives that I have been teaching this year. My hope is to connect less observant Jews with their spirituality, and in the things that they already ARE doing on Shabbat. I am hoping to create a bridge from their personal life to their synagogue experience. The hope is that they can relate and feel less bored or tuned out.

I explain that the structure of yoga class, hiking, and many sports is the same as a Worship service. First a warmup, then a set of routine exercises, a peak point, and finally, a come down into relaxation again. I want them to have this tool as an entry point into understanding the structure of a prayer service so they can “swim” or follow me, even if they don’t know every word in Hebrew.

JJ: When not busy with your congregation, how do you like to spend your free time? Any favorite restaurants in the L.A. area to recommend?

RJG: I suppose you could think of me as a healthy, spiritual seeker. I love to spend my time searching for the healthiest foods, and treatments and programs that help people manifest into who they are meant to be. My mornings always consist of a waking up, praying, journaling and exercising. I Spin, do yoga, bar workout and take private dance — Latin Jazz. I love to listening and finding music that moves my soul, and listening to podcasts.

My favorite restaurant is going to be vegetarian. Crossroads Kitchen in West Hollywood is an amazing experience for different vegetarian cuisine.

JJ: Finally, any last words for the kids?

RJG: My last words to kids is a prayer to find the courage to get off the “anxiety track” of overachieving in school and uncover quiet spaces where they can discover themselves and blossom.

Experience. Waking up with intent. Preparing your clothes. Right shoes. Water. Approaching nature in awe. Seeing the sun rise. Breathing. Listening to your footsteps.

All across the religious, wellness and health fields there is a shout-out to the ancient concept of sabbath. It is an oxymoron to say “pray in a building” when our hearts yearn to see or get a dose of Godliness that is a “given” in nature. Since the beginning of time, a loving Higher Being showed us how to rejuvenate and retreat, reset. It’s crucial for our mind body and soul. Why not take this gift and connect?

Why not battle hate, depression, isolation and fill up in the sanctuary that God gave us in the beginning? They say that God created all the remedies in the life force of the earth, before the diseases appeared.


Visit www.instagram.com/nachshonminyan for more information on Rabbi Judy Greenfeld, her congregation and ShaHike.