Aspen Jewish leaders address nationwide threats
March 13, 2017
The eve of Purim, the holiday celebrating Haman's foiled plot to kill the Jews 2,400 years ago in Persia, started off on a somber note at Aspen Chapel, where Rabbi David Segal reminded observers of the widespread recent threats against Jewish schools and community centers across the United States.
But Segal also acknowledged the lighthearted and fun-natured festivities associated with Purim, telling Aspen Jewish Congregation members at Friday's Shabbat services that there's nothing wrong with making the enemies look "silly" — taking a page from Mel Brooks' playbook in "The Producers" — every so often. And that's what some congregation members did, wearing flashy wigs, masks and outlandish costumes while putting their mirth-filled, satirical touch on Purim during a stage performance.
With the recent rash of threats and anti-Semitism, it was a lighthearted and traditional touch on a holiday that fell during troubled times for Jewish communities.
Since January, 145 bomb threats have been made in 36 states and three in Canadian provinces, the Denver branch of the Anti-Defamation League reported on its website Sunday. Those threats included 112 Jewish facilities, some of which were targeted more than once.
"One threat is too many and, as we see threats sweeping the nation, we are left worried and disturbed," the website says. "We cannot ignore the wildfire of hate we are experiencing. The Anti-Defamation League and our Jewish community will remain vigilant; our eyes and ears remain open and alert; and the ADL will remain the emergency line concerning anti-Semitic incidents within the community."
Though Aspen's three congregations have not received any threats, Jewish leaders said they plan to be prepared if they do.
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Last week, Rabbis Mendel Mintz, Itzhak Vardy, Segal and other Jewish leaders convened to address the current climate of anti-Semitism.
"It was just to really make sure that we're communicating, that we have plans," said Mintz, executive director of Chabad Jewish Community Center. "We need to be proactive and prepared."
Security was a big part of the conversation, said Jason Schnissel, executive director of Aspen Jewish Congregation, noting the importance of "having a broader conversation and having our lines of communication open should these threats occur."
Mintz's synagogue is located on Main Street and is under the Aspen Police Department's jurisdiction. The Aspen Chapel, a makeshift temple for the Aspen Jewish Congregation, is in the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office's purview. Vardy's Neshama Center has no permanent place of worship and uses facilities throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
While there have been no known threats locally, anti-Semitism, whether genuine or a result of youthful ignorance, has been seen in the form of swastikas spray painted in November at the Burlingame playground and more recently scrawled in an Aspen High School classroom.
"To some older Jews, it's not all that surprising," Segal said. "And for people like me, who grew up completely sheltered from anti-Semitism, it's something to wake up to."
Segal writes a monthly column for The Aspen Times and noted in his most recent piece an incident that happened on an Aspen school bus. Some students reportedly said the "Holocaust should be a holiday" and expressed they wanted to "bomb Jews and Asians."
"Some parents were shocked by their child's behavior and turned it into a loving, teachable moment," Segal wrote. "Others did not see anything worth responding to. Children may not understand the full impact of their behavior, but the adults in their lives should not shrug it off."
Mintz said young proponents of anti-Semitism should get a second chance and opportunity to learn from their impacts of their behavior.
"When it's a kid, it's really a teaching moment," he said. "We don't want to hurt someone's future or affect their college applications and opportunities going forward."