10 Steps to Leading Your Own Shabbat Hike

Inside Leadership

10 Steps to Leading Your Own Shabbat Hike

Leading your own synagogue Shabbat hike is incredibly easy. In just 10 steps – simple but effective – you can embark on a moving spiritual experience. And, as we discovered on Congregation Or Ami’s own Shabbat hikes, the journey is inspiring and refreshing.

Says participant Marcy Cameron, “They say exercise is good for the soul. I think Shabbat in the wilderness is good for the soul, too, and if you can add in a hike, well, even better! To worship in an environment where you can hear the birds, feel the light breeze and see the beauty of the oak trees… I cannot think of a better way to end the week and begin a new one.”

Here are 10 steps to hosting your own:  

  1. Choose a place to hike. We prefer a flat path for our first hikes, so that most people can participate, regardless of their endurance or hiking ability. Find a place with ample parking and well-marked trails, and double check when the gates/parking lots close so you won’t get locked in. Find a gathering spot where you can sit in a circle, welcome everyone, and set an inspiring tone.
  2. Publicize the event widely. We recorded a Shabbat video message about hiking in the wilderness on Shabbat to share with the whole congregation. Create a simple graphic to post on social media.
  3. Bring a portable table. While waiting to begin, people can fill out nametags, which encourage familiarity and break down barriers. Later, this table can hold your post-hike oneg – cookies, a challah, mini-cups and grape juice.
  4. Make a one-page sheet of prayers and songs. We weave nature-themed songs among an abbreviated order of prayers.
  5. Bring a few extras. Bring along a guitar for music, and invite a naturalist or park ranger to share outdoor wisdom.
  6. Appreciate nature. Take time along the way to look, stop, and listen in silence.
  7. Break your hike into multiple parts. We focused on five: an opening in a circle at the trailhead with a welcome and songs like Hinei Mah Tov; a closing with Kaddish and camp-like Hashkiveinu siyum; and three moments along the hike to stop, sing prayers, and listen to brief spiritual drashes (by the rabbi or congregants) and wisdom about our surroundings by a naturalist or park ranger.
  8. Conclude your hike. At the end, in the parking lot or somewhere that everyone can gather, make Kiddush (the blessing over wine), sing HaMotzi (the blessing over bread), and eat cookies.
  9. Kvell. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many people – always more than expected! – show up with their friends, kids, and dogs.
  10. Solicit feedback. Ask a few people to send you a few sentences reflecting upon their experience on the Shabbat hike. Include their post-hike reflections in a blog post or article, as publicity for the next Shabbat hike.

The experience will be inspiring. As our congregant Scott Cooper said, “The spiritual feeling created – by the cantor’s uplifting music and the rabbi’s spiritual teachings, at sunset in a most beautiful outdoor park setting in the company of fellow congregants and good friends while chanting prayers – was beyond words. As our Jewish tradition reminds us, God is around us, and I sensed this Presence and felt grateful for every day.”

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Rabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). He also co-edited a national CCAR Journal issue on New Visions for Jewish Community. Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. He serves on the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I? He tweets @RabbiKip.



Rabbi Paul Kipnes

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