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Take A Hike—With Torah Trailblazers

maxine walking dogs in creek

Maxine and her canine companions hit the trails.

castlewood flower

Flowers bloom in St. Louis parks.

Finally, after a long, brutal winter, springtime has sprung! No more excuses–Mother Nature is calling, and it’s time to get active again in the great outdoors. Fortunately, a new St. Louis walking club called the Torah Trailblazers makes exercise fun and invigorating for the body, mind, and soul. Maxine Mirowitz, who taught a Torah-based Yoga program in the St. Louis community, will lead the group hikes, which take place at three local scenic parks.

castlewood creek

Meramec River in Castlewood State Park.

Torah Trailblazers, made possible as one of the first recipients of the St. Louis Jewish Federation Innovation Grants in 2014, is open to men and women, 18 years and older, and takes place at three local scenic parks where limestone bluffs overlooking the Meramec River are a lot more interesting than jogging on a treadmill in front of the television.

Torah Trailblazers is truly a unique workout, allowing participants of all fitness levels to breathe in fresh air, burn calories, tone muscles, and, most importantly, open your head and heart to a Jewish teaching that can be applied to your everyday life.

“Torah translates in Hebrew as direction, teaching, or instruction.  A trailblazer is a person who blazes a trail for others to follow through unsettled wilderness,” explains Mirowitz, whose dedication to health, wellness, and Judaism makes her the perfect leader for this fun activity.

Basically, each session lasts about two hours and includes walking and enjoying the breathtaking vistas, then a short lesson on spirituality (example from the Torah portion of the week or insights regarding a Jewish holiday), and finally concludes with a relaxing series of yoga postures.  Obviously, Torah Trailbazers is more than a hike, it’s an adventure so that by the time you head back to your car, you feel like a new person ready to tackle the challenges of daily life.

castlewood trees

Breathtaking views of Castlewood State Park.

“I realize that life is an eternal adventure.  So a Torah Trailblazer is a fellow pathfinder of peace, inspired to navigate the world’s ever changing terrain to reveal vistas of clarity,” explains Mirowitz, who recently returned from Israel as one of the 25 Jewish Leaders to be the first to participate as a Hadassah Leadership Fellow. She is also an active member in Nishmah and the new St. Louis Jewish Women’s Society, an offshoot of Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program that she attended in 2010. She and her husband Steve (also known as Dever) are members of  Bais Abraham shul and have studied at Aish Ha Torah for the last 30 years, and she is a recent enrollee of the Mussar Institute program offered at Central Agency for Jewish Education.

But what makes Mirowitz such a wise teacher about life is that she came face  to face with death.

In November 2012, in celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary, she and her husband embarked on a 12-day cruise, a wine immersion trip, from England with stops in France, Spain, and Portugal.

“About one week into the trip, a small bout of hiccups quickly developed into wrenching nausea and vomiting.  Experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain, I visited the ship’s medical office. Their first impression was that I had experienced a muscle strain between my ribs leading to anxiety. I was given some medication and went back to my room, where I continued to remain ill for the next three days before returning to the Dr.’s office,” she explains.

What followed developed into a very critically dangerous situation, and their children Jacob, Zachary, and Lee at home, as well as family and friends were notified via email of the life threatening emergency.

“When my esophagus ruptured on the cruise boat, four days passed before it was detected.  By the time the lifeboat delivered me to the Portugal public hospital all of my major organs had gone into failure.  I was given only a twenty percent chance to survive the surgery to close off the remaining small portion of healthy esophageal tissue in my neck area and insert a feeding tube into my stomach.  For two weeks following I was monitored in an induced coma state fighting sepsis infection. Still unable to breathe on my own when I awakened, I had to be intubated.  This lead to my vocal chords to be paralyzed so even when I no longer needed oxygen it was hard to speak.  After 30 days an air ambulance delivered me from the ICU in Portugal to Mercy hospital,” she says.

Just a year ago, she was still unable to eat or drink anything by mouth.  For a period of six months, she received liquid nutrition through a gastric feeding tube until last April when she was surgically reconstructed.

“Ironically all of these obstacles has led to immense inner freedom.  When you undertake a fast you have an opportunity to liberate or express your soul.  Initially I was afraid to accept my physical body’s limitations because I thought I would lose my identity (as I was no longer able to teach yoga).  Instead it opened and freed my ability to love more deeply and show gratitude.  Now I have a heightened sense of appreciation for my body and gratitude for my family, community, and Creator,” she says.

For someone who previously exercised everyday and ate a healthy, organic diet and even harvested her own garden, this was a huge change. But she was alive. Her near death experience transformed her life, literally, inside and out.

“The reconstruction of my esophagus reshaped my body as well as my identity. I had to relearn two of the most basic bodily functions—how to breathe and eat. Each breath is a celebration, as well as each bite.  In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) we are taught that one who takes pleasure in his portion is truly happy.  The art of taking pleasure in what you have is based on the faith that the Almighty gives you exactly what you need,” says Mirowitz, who today loves to hike with her husband and their three rescue dogs, Ashby, Maya, and Millie.

maxine with dogs on leashes

Maxine walking with her dogs.

Today, she is healthy and strong and more committed than ever to share her passion for health and wellness and spirituality with others.

“Our job is to deeply appreciate and take pleasure in our portion every second of the day even under challenging circumstances.  This concept of deep gratitude saved my body and soul from perishing.  My existence still depends on skilled medical practitioners as well as my faith, family, and friends.”

Her journey, “from trauma to transcendence,” is chronicled in her blog at caringbridge.org/visit/maxinemirowitz.

So, a project like Torah Trailblazers is something Mirowitz was destined to take on. Over the last eight years, she has assembled Torah inspired lessons, creating a “soulful field guide “or “Jewish life map” that she will teach on the walk.

“Since our first hike is April 20, during the week of Passover, the holiday of freedom, we will discuss spiritual freedom, having the ability to use your free will to grow and develop,” she says.

Learning about Torah, especially in a beautiful outdoor setting with limestone bluffs, creeks, and forested hills is an ideal way to strengthen your Jewish identity and enhances the learning experience.

“Three pathways can strengthen belief in Judaism. The first is to study Torah.  It is said when you pray you speak to G-d, when you study Torah, G-d speaks to you.  The second way is to pay attention to everyday miracles.  Breathing seems so natural that it is easy to forget that all of our body’s systems are truly miracles.  A third pathway to connect with our Creator is to observe G-d’s creations, the wonders of the natural world.  The magnificence of nature awakens a sense of awe and wonder which leads us to the knowledge of G-d.  Making a date to trail blaze in the woods reminds us that there is a G-d constantly running our world,” says Mirowitz..

“Meditation and other contemplative activities, such as hiking in nature, fosters a sense of purpose and direction in life.  Mindfulness promotes compassion toward ourselves, mankind, and the natural world, which are necessary ingredients for well-being,” she adds.

The class size is limited to 25 hikers and all denominations are welcome. Online registration is required and includes a signed consent form, so please visit www.Torahtrailblazers.com for more information and to reserve your spot. 

Should you need to cancel please contact max@torahtrailblazers.com to make space available to other participants.

Stay tuned for more details on a family hike that will be scheduled in the fall located on a kid-friendly trail.


The hikes take place, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the following parks:

April 20: Castlwood State Park, in Ballwin

May 18:  Russel E. Emmenegger Nature Park, in Kirwood

June 22: Flint Quarry Trail at West Tyson County Park, in Eureka.

So, get on the right path, have fun, be active, and join Torah Trailblazers today. For Mirowitz, being outdoors, recognizing God’s wonders, and being with positive people is nothing short of transformational.

Russell Park

Flint Quarry Trail at West Tyson County Park.

“I try not to focus on what my health crisis has taken away from me, rather what it has given me.  Our youngest son Lee had lost touch with a childhood classmate Hannah (they were at Solomon Schechter from kindergarten through middle school) until she inquired about my health.  Out of my medical mess a romance blossomed, and they were wed this past January.  I long for a deeper connection than random chance. Torah Trailblazers is a field trip in nature to inspire introspection and connection.  I am privileged to be your trip leader to inner peace, beauty, and serenity.”

castlewood dog

Leashed dogs are welcome at some parks.