BY MARILYN SHAPIRO
As I write this, I am at 9100 feet in Summit County, Colo., spending time with my daughter Julie and my granddaughter, The Mountain Girl, while my son-in-law Sam is away on a once-in-a-lifetime rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.
On one particularly beautiful morning, I dropped my second grade Mountain Girl off at school and, with the help of trekking poles, started a hike on the bike path that runs through the county. After an invigorating, lovely hour work-out, I considered expanding my hike to include the more secluded trails accessible from the flat, more populated path. Did I dare go into the woods alone? I debated for a while and then took a right turn onto a trailhead. Hey! I could always turn back!
Rejoicing In The Day
It helped that I soon met up with a friend who was walking with her dog Dickens. When I mentioned my own hesitancy following the Peak Trail, she assuaged my concerns. “Dickens and I take an hour hike almost every day of the year.” Hopeful as well as a little anxious, I pushed on up the trail. The cloudless sky was a cerulean blue; the mountains above me were dressed in white, and the trail through the leafless aspens was pristine and quiet. I silently thanked Julie for living in such a beautiful location and God for providing such a beautiful day.
Ironically, when I reached my destination, I was not alone. Mountain Girl’s entire second grade class was on a field trip. They dotted the frozen lake, throwing snow at each other and making snowmen and (as I later learned) snow ducks. Mountain Girl gave me a hug before I navigated the last mile down to my daughter’s home. So much for my adventure being—well—an adventure!
Eye Of The Beholder
Still, judging from my multiple postings including photographs on Facebook and the comments that followed, many of my family and friends thought of my winter trek as irresponsible, strange, even insane. Hadn’t I gladly moved to Florida to get away from Upstate New York winters? More importantly, am I crazy for hiking by myself in the woods? Aren’t I afraid of falling on one of the more tricky trails? Attacked by a mountain man? Eaten by the moose, elk, and bear that inhabit the forested areas where I venture?
Time to fess up. Unlike Cheryl Strayed, who set off on a three month long solo journey the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to find herself and then wrote about it in Wild, it had taken me a few days to eschew the easier walks on Frisco’s sidewalks and head up snow-packed, slightly steep, less populous trail in the winter. As a matter a fact, it took me a while to hike alone during our six-week summer rental when the trails are filled with tourists from around the country and world taking advantage of the Summit County’s spectacular but short summer. But I swallowed my fear and took the leap of faith.
Growing up as a Cohen did not equate with courage; it was closer to cowardliness. We were not an adventurous family, in terms of our choices, our vacations, and especially our testing of our physical limits. Although my brother Jay played football and wrestled, the rest of the family considered strenuous exercise to be taking a leisurely walk. Case in point: when I had broken from the mold after marrying Larry, I took a three-mile jog on the back roads near my parents’ Lake Champlain cottage. When I got home, my father said, “You shouldn’t run like that! You can have a heart attack!” My 25-year-old self just smiled and walked away.
We won’t even get into what he said about Larry’s running races, which included some marathons. I can’t imagine what he would think about our son Adam’s 60-mile bike rides; Julie’s skinning (skiing up hills) in zero degree temperatures; and Sam’s 200 mile rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. So yes, I had to invoke Shakespeare’s MacBeth to get the courage to take an easy winter hike!
Pesach And Risk-taking
I have been thinking of courage and risks and taking chances in relationship to the upcoming major Jewish holiday, Passover. Based on interpretations by the medieval biblical and Talmudic commentator Rashi, not every Hebrew followed Moses on his trek out of Egypt across the Red Sea. “According to the biblical account (Exodus 13:18b), Israel left Egypt chamushim, often translated as armed,” wrote Rabbi Norman S. Lipson in a 3/26/1999 article in the Sun Sentinel. Rashi, however, translated the Hebrew word one-fifth, which meant only 20 percent of all Israel left with Moses.“80 percent stayed in Egyptian slavery!” Lipson wrote.
Had We Been There…
Wow! So if the Cohen family had lived in Egypt at the time of exodus, knowing my father, I bet we would have stayed home. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know!” he would say. While a small group of neighbors started packing and baked matzah, he and Jay would have gone back to building more pyramids while my mother, two sisters, and I would have been kneading more leavened bread for dinner.
Even if Rashi’s interpretation was wrong, and most Jews did leave, I am sure one of us (the Cohens) would not have emulated Nachshon ben Aminadav, the hero in a midrash. Standing at the shores of the Red Sea with the pharaoh and his army bearing down on the fleeing Hebrews, this brave man risked his life and jumped into the churning waters. At the last moment, God interfered and split the sea, saving Nachshon and providing the path to safety for all the rest who feared to take the leap of faith.
Taking The Chance
In a 4/22/2022 article in the Jerusalem Post by Nathan Lopes Cardozo, dean of the David Cardozo Academy in Jerusalem, praised the “ Nachshons of every generation.” “Those who were prepared to jump into the sea, taking huge risks, were responsible for magnificent scientific discoveries, space travel, grand business deals, daring political decisions and waging wars on evil.” Others may have considered them as strange, irresponsible, even insane. Cardozo commented, but their willingness to take risks based on hope moves the world forward.
Okay. My taking the “road less traveled” by turning right on a bike path and heading up a mountain trail certainly does not qualify as an epic, world-changing event. But I think of Adam, Julie, and Sam, who dare to live a more adventurous life than my birth family. And I think of Nashshon, Judah Maccabeus, Theodore Hertzl, David Ben Gurion, Hannah Szenes, Anne Frank, Steven Spielberg, and so many other Jews whose vision, heroism, and courage paved the way for those who tend to hang back on the shore, waiting to see what will happen.
Marilyn Shapiro, formerly of Clifton Park, is now a resident of Kissimmee, Fla. A second compilation of her articles printed in The Jewish World has been published. Tikkun Olam now joins There Goes My Heart. She recently published Fradel’s Story, a compilation of stories by her mother that she edited. Shapiro’s blog is theregoesmyheart.me.