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
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.