The ancient children of Israel had sandals, a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night during their Sinai sojourn with God.
Park City’s Temple Har Shalom, Rabbi David Levinsky and his northern Utah resort community have skis and powder snow — a far more pleasant prospect than 40 years of wandering in the desert.
On Sunday, the growing Reform Judaism congregation sponsored the first of three ski days planned this season. Levinsky says the idea is to help new members forge friendships with longer-term worshippers.
“We have had steady growth over the past 2½ years,” the rabbi says, estimating the temple’s 350-family membership has jumped 20 percent during that period.
“When you are a believer, you are not surprised other people also want to believe,” the skiing and skateboarding Levinsky says. “But that much of a growth rate has been a surprise [because] we are a nonproselytizing faith.”
Levinsky says about 5 percent of that growth is due to new conversions. The rest largely comes from Park City’s swelling population with new Jewish families moving in.
Temple Har Shalom sponsored two ski days during the 2016-17 ski season. They proved so successful that the synagogue decided on three this season. On the heels of Sunday’s kickoff at Park City Mountain Resort, the next two are set for Feb. 11 at the nearby Canyons Village and March 4 at Deer Valley Resort.
The ski events, while aimed at Park City’s Jewish community, are entirely social in nature. After a morning on the slopes, participants meet for lunch.
“It’s just an opportunity,” Levinsky says, “for people to get to know each other outside the synagogue.”
As for mixing skiing and prayers, Temple Har Shalom has long offered a 3 p.m. Friday “Ski Shul” at the Deer Valley Resort during the winter months.
Michael Sommer, a businessman and member who has led the synagogue’s skiing promotions, says the Ski Shul often packs Deer Valley’s Sunset Cabin site. Everyone, Jewish or not, is welcome.
“It is open to anyone with a Deer Valley lift ticket,” Sommer says. “Most of the attendees are out-of-towners who come for the novelty of skiing to a synagogue service.”
Indeed, skiers from Israel and all over the world have prayed on the mountain as guests of Park City’s synagogue.
It’s all about the hospitality, Sommer says, something Temple Har Shalom makes a priority.
“Yes, we have religious services, but we are more than that,” he says. “[This is] a place where any person can feel welcome and accepted, no matter what religion or race you are.”
At Ski Shul, it’s all about the worship, the warmth, the fellowship and, yes, the sport.
Levinsky posts the Israeli flag’s Star of David outside the cabin to let skiers know that Shabbat service is about to begin. The rabbi also alters the Amidah prayer calling for “wind and rain” to a more appropriate plea for “wind and snow.”
And don’t fret, powder hounds. He keeps the Sabbath service short. After all, there are still lifts to ride, carves to turn and moguls to crush.