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Celebrate Spring with Jewish Outdoors Club's 6th Anniversary


By Alexandra Cooper
Blueprint, April 2003

What are the chances for romance if you're sweaty, dirty and gasping for breath after finishing a four-hour hike? According to Alon Krausz, founder of the Jewish Outdoor Club (JOC), better than you might think.

The club already has four marriages to its credit. But even if love isn't in the air for hikers, excitement might be. The club "quenches my thirst for adventure, as it does for other JOC adrenaline junkies," said Krausz.

Since its inception in 1996, the JOC has grown from a small group of hiking-enthusiast friends to a mailing list of over 800 people with activities ranging from ice climbing to river rafting. Krausz realized his gatherings filled a void on the Upper West Side when, in 1997, he organized a hike through Kehilat Orach Eliezer. 60 people attended and after creating a mailing list, the club expanded to its current size entirely through word of mouth.

The primary purpose of the JOC is "to bring Jews to experience and appreciate the great outdoors," according to Krausz. A secondary, but just as important, objective is to serve as an informal setting for people to meet.

While the typical JOC member is single, between the ages of 20 and 35 and Modern Orthodox, the group does not promote a particular agenda. "I believe that everyone experiences the outdoors in a unique and personal way," Krausz explained. "Anyone and everyone is welcome."

Generally, his groups consist of a balance of singles from Manhattan and surrounding areas including New Jersey, Westchester, and beyond. Some members travel from as far as Philadelphia and Buffalo to attend events. Krausz himself is married and lives in Riverdale. "We're just a fun group of people looking to have a good time and make > friends," he said.

In the past, the JOC has sponsored events such as biking, camping and caving, as well as more exotic activities like hang-gliding, snowmobiling and skydiving. With an outing about every month, the JOC's schedule for this spring includes paintball, whitewater rafting, several hikes and kayaking. To celebrate the organization's sixth anniversary, a weekend retreat is being planned for May.

Though Krausz plans the majority of JOC events, any member can initiate an outing. Also, unlike other Jewish outdoors and environmental groups, Krausz leads JOC activities according to the laws of Shabbat and kashrut. But, he stressed, "Denomination isn't as important as personality."

"People who are fun-loving, easy-going, and good-natured usually fit right in."

The road to happiness, however, does not always go smoothly. In the group's earlier days, Krausz once led a ten-person hike that wandered off the trail, lost for 12 hours. On another outing, a woman broke her nose walking into a tree. Several years ago, a group of ten went snowmobiling in Vermont, and a total of three snowmobiles crashed. And when a planned rafting trip was snowed out, the participants took a detour to the local casino.

"If you're the kind of person who needs everything to be perfect, JOC isn't for you," joked Krausz. Still, he counts almost every JOC outing as a success. "Even if the event itself or the conditions are only so-so, the people really make it great."

"The people are friendly and down-to-earth," said Tamar Shuldiner, an Upper West Sider active in the JOC who echoed Krausz' sentiment. Since conditions in the great outdoors can be unpredictable, the easy-going, good nature of the group comes in handy. Both Shuldiner and Krausz took part in a recent weeklong trip to Utah. Driving along the steep, muddy back roads was so rough, the group needed to be rescued by a park ranger. "We make plenty of wrong turns," said Krausz, "but we have a ton of fun doing it."

Because the group does not operate for profit, JOC's admission charges are low--activities are priced to only cover general expenses. Costs generally range from $2.00 for hikes to $105 for ice climbing. Most outings are booked to capacity. There is a limit of 50 people per hike, and according to Krausz, "they always fill up within 48 hours."

For information on joining the Jewish Outdoors Club, or more on the organization, visit the group's website at http://jewishoutdoorsclub.com.



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