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On our Shabbat hike, we experienced a different connection with God, a deeper connection that allowed us to experience God as our ancestors did. In the wilderness, without walls, without man-made things, it seemed easier to feel God's presence.
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.
They say that 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.
– Marcy Cameron
- Choose a place to hike. We prefer a flat path for our first hikes, so that most people – irregardless of their endurance or hiking ability – can participate. Find a place with ample parking, well marked trails, and double check when the gates/parking lots close so you will not be locked in. Find a gathering spot where, in a circle, you can welcome everyone and set an inspiring tone.
- Publicize widely. We recorded a Shabbat video message on hiking in the wilderness on Shabbat to share with the whole congregation. Create a simple graphic to post on social media (see ours above).
- Bring a portable table so people can fill out name tags (which encourage familiarity and break down barriers) while waiting to begin. Later, this table can hold your post-hike oneg – cookies, a challah, mini-cups and grape juice.
- Make a one page prayer and songsheet. We weave nature-themed songs among an abbreviated order of prayers.
- Bring a guitar for music and a naturalist or park ranger to share outdoor wisdom.
- 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 camplike 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 your surroundings by a naturalist or park ranger.
- Take time along the way to look, stop and listen in silence.
- At the end, in the parking lot or somewhere that everyone can gather, make kiddush, sing Hamotzi, and eat cookies.
- Then kvell plenty at how many people, always more than expected, show up with their friends, kids, and dogs on a leash.
- Remember to ask five to six people to send you three to four sentences reflecting upon their experience on the Shabbat hike. Include the post-hike reflections in a blogpost 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, G-d is around us, and I sensed this Presence and felt grateful for every day.