Orthodox Outdoors

Are you MoDox? If you don’t know what MoDox means, you’re not alone. The latest slang word is a hybrid of Modern and Orthodox and helped Jodi Berris attract a hip, fun-loving demographic of Jews to her Outdoor Adventure Shabbaton.

More than 74 Jews from around the world came to Oregon to hike, eat and schmooze with other Jewish young adults at the second annual MoDox Outdoor Adventure Shabbaton June 27-July 2.

Berris, the founder of Portland Jewish Events, got the idea for the Shabbaton after attending Keneski, a ski convention in Italy for Modern Orthodox Jews in January of 2011. When some of the participants told Berris they would be interested in checking out Portland, she immediately started to plan. 

“During the plane ride home I wrote a detailed itinerary for a Portland MoDox outdoor adventure Shabbaton to see if there was interest. When I landed, I sent it to participants from Keneski,” said Berris. She promised them that if they were serious about the trip, she would plan the whole itinerary. 

People were stunned and immediately wrote back with interest. “So,” said Berris, “that was the birth of the first Shabbaton in the summer of 2011 and paved the way for the latest event in July of 2012.” This year’s MoDox Outdoor Adventure Shabbaton boasted an itinerary packed with Nike guest speakers, brewery tours, hikes and barbecues. Outdoor events were blended with a complete Shabbat program and options for shul at Kesser Israel, Chabad and Beit Yosef congregations. Berris also arranged for local host families to house out-of-town guests.

Berris was clear that the purpose of the Shabbaton was not to be a Jewish motivational trip. “There is no agenda other than to showcase Portland and expose people to the beauty of our environment and community. These participants are already observant, so it’s an event for like-minded people to do things they all have in common together,” explained Berris.

The goal for the event was definitely realized. “It was a huge success to have 74 Jews gathering, learning, experiencing and growing as individuals, whether it’s Judaicly, embracing Portland’s nature, opening up minds, or seeing a unique, small Jewish community and how it functions – it’s a win, win, win,” enthused Berris. The third win, she clarified, is the benefit for the community and host families who gain from engaging with Jews from around the world.

Last year, there were participants from South Africa and England. And this year, although all participants currently live in the U.S. or Canada, some participants were originally from Belgium, France, Australia, England, Ethiopia, Israel, Iran and Canada.

Participants also resonated with Berris’ goal of having like-minded Jews enjoy Portland in an outdoor setting. New Yorker Ari Goldberg said he cannot wait to return to Portland for either another Shabbaton or for vacation. “I had an amazing time at the Shabbaton. The spirit of Oregonians astonished me – both people from the Shabbaton and the everyday Oregon natives I met,” said Goldberg. He also was impressed by Berris’ hard work and compassion to put on the event. “I’ve never seen someone work so hard. The $99 I paid could not have come close to covering everything I received!” said Goldberg.

In addition to the moderate registration fee, Berris was able to get support from Café at the J, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Portland Kollel, Kesser Israel, Chabad of Oregon and the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.

Despite all the work that went into planning the event, Berris hopes to have another Shabbaton next summer. “We even had some participants start to date from this event. So I have to do it again! When you watch all 74 people engage, it makes you feel it was entirely worth every second of the time put into executing it,” said Berris.

Berris wants to put Portland’s Jewish community on the map.

Micah Arieh had never been to Portland before the event. “It was great getting to know the Jewish Portland community, and I’m still in touch with the fabulous people I met there,” said Arieh after returning home.

Next year, Berris will continue not only to jam pack the itinerary with cool events, but also create a space where like-minded Jews can congregate and engage over activities they enjoy. Berris said, “If I make it chill and no pressure, people can take away a friend, an experience, and maybe even a boyfriend … just by letting nature run its course.”

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