Men's and Father/Son Vacations
Inward Bound: Urbanite Renewal with a Jewish Flavor
by Ruth Raisner
Every urban dweller has had the fantasy. You hang up a sign that says 'gone Fishing" and take off for some idyllic refuge from civilization - no phones, no TV, no radio - where your only concerns are the weather and which lure to use.
Then reality sets in. Even if you can manage to take the week off, think of the other arrangements: finding that pocket of unblemished nature; making the reservations; securing the necessary license; renting the boat, the fishing gear, the camping equipment; provisioning yourself; etc. The prospect is even more daunting for kashrut observant Jews, who cannot rent cooking equipment that has been used for non-kosher food and are limited in their choice of provisions.
And so the fantasy is buried in an avalanche of logistics and details.
But now consider the following scenario. It is summer. You board a plane for the Twin Cities, where you are picked up and transported to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, one of the country's most zealously protected national parks. There you meet your fellow campers and your guide, go out on the lake for some canoeing and fishing practice, then return to a waterfront cabin for dinner and a good night's sleep. The next day your group paddles to a campsite, where you set up tents. The following days are a continuum of fishing, water travel, unbelievable meals (some featuring the catch of the day), breathtaking scenery, and, at night, spectacular displays of the Northern Lights. You return home so laid back that you practically recline.
The difference between this and our previous fantasy is that you haven't lifted a finger to prepare for the trip, other than sending in a check and packing your clothes using a suggested list. The canoe rental, reservations, licenses, guide, camping and fishing gear, even the mouth-watering kosher meals - are all part of the package. And this isn't a fantasy. It's Inward Bound.
Currently in its 4th year, Inward Bound is the brainchild of Rabbi Moishe Kasowitz, a 40-year-old Lubavitch shaliach (representative) who lives in St. Paul, MN. After several trips to Baltimore, MD to go camping with a friend who lived there, "I realized that the ideal place for this kind of activity was in my back yard - the BWCA"
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area comprises one million acres of forests, lakes and streams on Minnesota's northern border with Canada. Its magnificent ecosystem is so carefully guarded that no motor-powered vehicles are permitted on its camping grounds; no planes are permitted to fly overhead unless their altitude exceeds four thousand feet. No electrical power or telephone connections have been installed, nor are cellular phones permitted. No cans or bottles may be brought into the area.
"In several years, the only piece of litter I have ever found there was part of a cigarette butt," Kasowitz says, "and you could tell that it was left only by oversight. Everyone who comes to the BWCA enters into its spirit of beauty and peacefulness. People come there to restore what the rest of the year has stressed out of them. I wanted to share that experience with others, and ended up offering something unique.
What makes Inward Bound unique is the combination of services it offers:
"0f course, we can accommodate anyone who wants to come for the prior weekend or stay over the next," Kasowitz says. "But we have found that many people like to be picked up at the airport on Sunday and returned for a flight out before the weekend."
In addition, Kasowitz offers a concurrent study program designed for the wives and families of the participants with each trip. Because of the Jewish laws of modesty, he cannot include women on the trips that he personally leads, and in the past he had been unable to find appropriately qualified leaders for an all-women's kosher trip. However, with Mrs. Miriam Rhodes of New York, this summer Inward Bound will be available for women, too.
No Mr. America
As for the male participants, Kasowitz emphasizes that one needn't be Mr. America to qualify for Inward Bound.
This is a trip almost anyone can do," he says. "On our first trip, we had men in their 60's paddling alongside men in their 20's." He does advise, however, that those with more sedentary lifestyles work up to the trip by increasing their exercise beforehand. "And please - no cardiac patients," he adds, smiling.
This does not mean that he is unprepared for medical emergencies. To begin with, every guide brings a flare gun to alert camp rangers if necessary, and Kasowitz makes sure his outfitters are familiar with each trip's itinerary before he sets out. He carries a standard first aid kit, as well as insect repellent, sun block and other non-prescription remedies. He also attempts to include one physician on each ten-person trip. And finally, he points out, one can truly rely on the good will of the camping population at BWCA.
"People watch out for each other at the Boundary Waters," he says. "if anyone has a problem, you can bet someone will either assist or paddle over to the nearest ranger station for help.
Kasowitz also avoids overtaxing the participants by making sure that each is capable of carrying his own weight. Most of the Inward Bound trips are for adults only, but there is at least one Father-and-Son trip each summer.
These are wonderful bonding opportunities for fathers and sons, but its not going to happen a the child can't hold his own and the father ends up laboring under a double workload," he explains. "I always insist that a boy be at least bar mitzvah (13 years old) and physically mature enough to handle the exercise.
And what of those who would not recognize a bar mitzvah a they saw one - i.e., men with little or no Jewish background?
"Participation in the Jewish aspect of Inward Bound is optional," Kasowitz says. "Our food, of course, is entirely kosher, and we hold prayers, but the campers decide for themselves whether or not to take part. The whole point of the trip is for people to feel release from pressure. I would never violate that freedom."
There are, on the other hand, campers who prefer more Jewish content along with their fishing. For them, Kasowitz offers study sessions and, on some of the trips, guest speakers. A favorite among these is Rabbi Manis Friedman, dean of the Bais Chana school in St. Paul and author of the popular book, "Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore?" Another frequent guest is Zale Newman, known to thousands of Jewish families through his recordings with "Uncle Moishy and the Mitzvah Men."
Ultimately, however, each person's Inward Bound experience is determined by the individual's own needs and personality. Ken Storch, a 38-year end New Jersey internist specializing in nutrition/metabolism, found himself reviewing his life and his goals last summer.
"It was a wonderful opportunity to do some soul-searching without the usual interruptions telephone, fax machine, beepers. 1 can't say I emerged a different person, but between the opportunity to reflect, the company of Rabbi Kasowitz and Rabbi Lew [guest speaker Rabbi Shmuel Lew of London], the fishing, the meteor shower and the Northern Lights, it was certainly the experience of a lifetime.
Storch's wife, Helene, spent the five days of her husband's trip studying at Bais Chana with women from all over the world. In addition to enjoying her own experience, she was thrilled at Ken's obvious refreshment when his group returned.
"He was in such a state of relaxation, so calm," she says. Then, laughing, she recalls the priorities of another member of his group.
"Here they were, all pleasantly tired and sweaty, all headed directly for the showers, except for one man who made a beeline for Mrs. Kasowitz and asked plaintively,
"'Do you have any more of that farfel?"'
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