By Deborah Newbrun
I have been leading a series of Jewish-themed nature hikes for the PJCC as part of their Jewish Wellness programming for several years. Often the first question on the hike is: What makes a hike Jewish?
Jews have a blessing for what Abraham Joshua Heschel calls radical amazement, when you stop to notice something in nature that is not created by humans and you want to mark the moment with a blessing of thanks.
Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohienu Melech Ha Olam, oseh ma’asay bereshit
Bountiful are you, the one we call ruler, creator of the universe who makes the wonders of creation.
A Harvard Medical School health publication confirms what we already know. Those people who cultivate a practice of gratitude, like writing thank you notes or saying prayers of thanks, are the happiest. “With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
On the PJCC Jewish-themed nature hikes, we enter the woods or fields or ocean-side trails prepared to give gratitude for the world’s bounty. Gently, I create opportunities to stop, take notice and give thanks for the beauty we see around us. These hikes, which are on the shorter side (1.5-3 miles), are a wonderful way to connect to the outdoors, to Jewish teachings, to new and old friends, and to yourself! Sometimes we learn about trees in Jewish texts, and other times we learn about the blessings of the senses. But with each hike, if we are lucky, we connect to what Abraham Joshua Heschel calls radical amazement.
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement . . . get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
Join us on one or all three free nature hikes led by Deborah Newbrun in 2015. Earn 100 JCC Rewards points per hike for pre-registering and attending. Pre-registration required.
Deborah Newbrun is a Jewish environmental educator and author of Spirit In Nature: Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail.