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Mountaintop Chuppah: Wedding Ceremonies in the Great Outdoors

Forget halls or hotels: Most of the weddings Adventure Rabbi Jamie Korngold officiates are in the great outdoors.

By Susan Josephs
Spring 2012

Rabbi Jamie Korngold has a special fondness for the wedding ceremonies she performs on skis—a mountaintop Chuppah. At Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Colorado, for example, she once married a couple who insisted on formal attire. “The groom was in a tux and skis, and I just loved that juxtaposition,” she recalls. “We did the wedding ceremony and then we all went skiing while we were still dressed up.”

Korngold, also known as the Adventure Rabbi and author of the bestselling book God in the Wilderness, has built her rabbinate around helping people connect to Judaism and Jewish community through the outdoors. This includes officiating at lifecycle events, and her Adventure Rabbi Program, headquartered in Boulder, Colo., receives hundreds of inquiries a year from engaged couples nationwide.

“Some 60 to 70 percent of Jews today aren’t affiliated with a synagogue. And many of them are interfaith and don’t know where to turn. So they call us,” she says of herself and the two other rabbis who work with her. “These are people that want a rabbi who won’t be judgmental and will personalize their ceremony.”

Though she has performed hundreds of ceremonies in her career, Korngold more recently averages about 10 weddings a year, delegating the rest of the jobs to her colleagues. “I’ll either do weddings where I have a personal connection to the couple, or I’ll take the really interesting ones,” she says.

For Korngold, “interesting” often takes place on top of mountain peaks, or it means the ceremony she once performed in Jackson Hole, Wyo. “The yichud was held in a teepee,” she says, referring to the part of the Jewish wedding after the ceremony when the newly married couple shares a few moments in private. “So after I did the ceremony, I walked the couple over to the teepee and I just loved that.”

To prepare for her role as officiant, Korngold always meets twice with the engaged couple, and writing the ceremony generally takes about 10 hours. “People always ask why it costs so much,” she says of her and her colleague’s fees, which range from $850 to several thousand dollars, depending on the ceremony’s location. “But it’s a long process. I start with a template of a Jewish wedding and then I personalize it. I write down very carefully what I want to say to each couple, and it’s not just the words; it’s the spacing between the words, and at the ceremony, it’s how I say things.”

Most important, Korngold “holds holy space” for the people in attendance at the ceremony. “That’s the exhausting part,” she admits. “It has to do with having all these people with a million things on their mind, but they have come to this wedding to be really present with this couple. The rabbi’s job is to spiritually and energetically embrace all these people so they can relax and be fully present with the couple.”

Korngold, however, loves this part of her rabbinate and relishes the opportunities “to celebrate with couples in these unique ways. I don’t talk about what marriage means to me or what it means in Judaism, but what it means to these two people,” she says. “It’s a heavy task to convey what someone else thinks to their guests. But I feel I’ve learned how to really do it so I can represent them publicly in a genuine way.”

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