Aspen Jewish Congregation has new rabbi, cantor
July 26, 2010
ASPEN – As the Aspen Jewish Congregation’s first full-time, fully ordained rabbi and cantor, David Segal and Rollin Simmons are poised to bring new life to the town’s oldest Jewish congregation.
More than that, though, the husband-and-wife team say they hope to bring new energy to the communities they are charged with serving.
“There are a lot of things we hope to establish and explore,” said the 29-year-old Segal, who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley a few weeks ago. “And one of the things we really want to create is a network of relationships among our community – both the Jewish community and beyond the Jewish community.”
Segal may well be better positioned than his predecessors with the Aspen Jewish Congregation (AJC) to make this happen. Prior to Segal’s hiring, AJC was led by Gideon Kaufman. An Aspen real estate lawyer who helped found AJC several decades ago, Kaufman worked as a lay rabbi on a solely volunteer basis.
“Gideon did such an amazing job, and we will always appreciate and need volunteers,” said Segal. He was raised in Houston, spent his summers visiting Aspen and was most recently a student rabbi in Mahwah, N.J. “But we can be more present, and give of ourselves in ways very different than someone who has a full-time job outside the congregation.”
Among the ways Segal hopes he and Simmons can give to Aspen and the AJC, which numbers some 160 families, is in a spiritual sense, not just a religious sense.
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“We want to be a focal point for people, and [a] place for them to turn in times of need, loss, pain,” he said. “We also want to be a place for them to turn in times of celebration and joy. We want to show people that the synagogue, as I imagine all places of worship are to their congregations, is one place that is there for them through all the stages of life.”
For Simmons, a Boston native who met Segal while both were students in Jerusalem, helping people in their spiritual and religious life is an integral part of being a cantor and teacher.
“I hope to bring music to this community in new ways; to teach our faith in new and different ways,” said the 31-year-old Simmons, citing her way of working with young students by teaching the torah in both English and Hebrew, so that the meaning of the stories is relayed. “I don’t want them chanting Hebrew just for the sake of chanting Hebrew. I want them to learn the stories, to learn their meaning. So far, I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about this approach.”
Segal agreed, noting that he and Simmons hope to lead the AJC with an eye toward the future while respecting their faith’s foundation.
“It’s about finding the place where the ancient text meets our modern life,” he said. “It’s about connecting tradition to the person and the person to the tradition – and all in a way that adds meaning to their lives.”
In this regard, Segal believes he is no different than AJC’s previous leaders, or the leaders in any of Aspen’s other religious institutions.
“We’re all here to foster cooperation and understanding among our various faith communities,” he said, adding that a first step toward this new inter-faith dialog will include an August luncheon with all local clergy. “Religious leaders are community leaders, and as a person in a public position, I take my role as rabbi very seriously. It is an honor to serve my congregation and the community.”