Jews in canoes

Mark Mietkiewicz

And in tents. And on trails. And in forests.

Although it may shatter stereotypes, there are plenty of Jews who take the opportunity to say goodbye to the city and venture into the wild.

There they find the ideal setting to commune with friends and nature – and to also do some praying and Jewish learning.

You don’t have to convince Stephen Altbaum and his buddies about the virtues of getting out. For more than three decades, they have explored Ontario’s waterways and wilderness in “an excursion of faith, friendship and food.”

“Wherever we are we make Kiddush and light candles on Shabbat,” organizer Altbaum said. “We also do Havdalah on Saturday nights.”

As for the camaraderie, “There’s this amazing chemistry between us. Sure, we’ve had our small problems, someone will get on someone else’s nerves. But this group has kept a lot of psychiatrists out of work (”

Camping with the guys sounds great but so is getting out with your own family. You can watch videos of Moshe-Yitzchak and his parents taking to the great outdoors.

Despite the soggy weather, their spirits seem upbeat and they even are able to glean some meaningful lessons from some unlikely events.

When he is able to nurse a spark into a roaring fire, Moshe-Yitzchak says, “Just like there was just one spark in the fire… so in some Yidden (Jews), there is only one spark and if you blow on the spark and you give it lots of care, it will become a nice fire with lots of sparks (”

And for something a bit different, check out the video of challahs roasting (yes, roasting) over an open flame.

There is more to observing Shabbat than just refraining from lighting a fire. And that has probably frightened more than one observant lover of the outdoors from camping from Friday to Sunday.

Aside from kindling, there are prohibitions regarding extinguishing, building, cooking, laundering and carrying in areas outside the boundaries of an eruv.

You can get an idea of what Shabbat campers need to be aware of and some possible solutions at this site:

The National Jewish Girl Scout Committee has recommendations about keeping kosher and enjoying Shabbat in the wild (

If you have the longing to get outdoors but don’t have the skills, equipment or nerve to do it by yourself, there are groups which will guide your body and nurture your soul. offers New England-based hiking and canoe trips in the spring and dog sledding trips in the winter. The site quotes from the Midrash Rabbah, “Wilderness is a necessary condition for every revelation, for every true internalization of the Torah’s teachings: Whoever would wish to acquire Torah must make himself ownerless like the wilderness.”

Rabbi Mike Comins’ has organized “Spiritual Wilderness Adventures” into Joshua Tree National Park, across Wyoming’s Wind River Range and by kayak in Yellowstone National Park.

Meanwhile, leads groups around Boulder, Colo. while has ventured as far afield as Alaska and the European Alps (

North of the border, Toronto’s Village Shul organizes an annual three-day Canoe ‘n Learn in Ontario’s Frontenac Provincial Park. “We’re not offering a camping trip geared to super athletes,” explained organizer Richard Bassett. “We’re hoping for a group of about 24 men for frum-friendly leisure and learning in the great outdoors (”

And to prove that there really is a community of likeminded outdoor enthusiasts out there, visit the Facebook group, “Jews don’t go camping…?”

There, you’ll read comments such as:
• I have met Jews that camp at the Ritz or go solo camping in the mountains. DNA does not preclude any of us from trying new things for sure.
• As a Single Jewish Mom I took my boys camping many times pitched the tent and did the rest!!!!!
• That’s nonsense…Where is it written that Jews must fall into the stereotypes that were created for us (

Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising, this Jewish wanderlust, this urge to explore the great outdoors.

After all, it’s been in our blood for thousands of years. As it says in Exodus 19:2: “They entered the wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the wilderness.”

If our ancestors camped out for 40 years, is it really so odd if some Jews want to do it for a few days?

Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at

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