In aftermath of Pittsburgh, Aspen police, religious leaders focus on safety

An interfaith memorial gathering and Shabbat service Friday will have a guest typically not seen at Aspen religious events — an on-duty security guard.

“We will continue to do the same for a number of weeks as we continue to review our security protocols,” Rabbi Emily Segal said Tuesday, referring to the Aspen Jewish Congregation’s response to the anti-Semitic attack Saturday at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 people dead.

The AJC sent an email to its members Tuesday alerting them to a memorial gathering and Shabbat service that will take place at 6 and 6:30 p.m. Friday, respectively, at the Aspen Chapel located at 77 Meadowood Drive.

The interfaith event is open “to the entire (Roaring Fork Valley) community to join us as we stand with Pittsburgh in the wake of this horrific tragedy,” reads an invitation using the “#ShowUpFor​Shabbat” hashtag.

Clergies throughout the valley have reached out to local rabbis in the wake of the shooting carried out by a lone man who was arrested and taken into custody.

“Many leaders from the non-Jewish community have reached out with their support, which is very touching not just for me but many others,” said Rabbi Mendel Mintz of the Chabad Jewish Community Center on Main Street. “There was so much warmth and love and kindness. I kind of felt like it unified the community.”

As personally as the attack was taken by the Jewish community, it also has prompted Aspen leaders to look at the security measures in place at all religious venues in town.

“As we’ve done in the past with local businesses that attract high-profile guests, we’re kind of extending that to all of the houses of worship in Aspen,” Mayor Steve Skadron said.

The Aspen Police Department has assigned a sergeant to visit churches and venues of any faith to “gauge their level of preparedness and also to inquire how the Aspen police can best support them,” the mayor said.

“It’s more or less for us to check in and see how they’re doing,” said Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn.

Mintz met with Aspen police Monday before the Chabad Jewish Community Center held a prayer vigil service for the Pittsburgh victims later in the evening.

“We’ve reviewed our security and while there’s nothing that can be perfect, you do everything you can do to enhance things,” he said.

Segal and Mintz said resilience and faith give their congregations strength.

“My message is, when there are moments of great darkness, you add light,” Mintz said.

Segal called for an “act of positive Jewish resistance” by “taking even more pride in being Jewish in the face of people being killed simply because they were Jewish.”

Still, the national backdrop of violence and hate crimes has undoubtedly impacted congregation members.

“There have been so many members who have been in touch with me by email and phone and in person to express their dismay at what has happened,” Segal said. “For many of them, they have never felt the kind of anxiety or fears that they’re feeling now about what could be next to come to the Jewish community in the United States, that their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents came to the United States specifically because it wasn’t going to happen here.

“And while they know it won’t necessarily happen here, this is the most directly that they have felt that fear before.”

The Police Department has worked with Aspen schools, day-care facilities, businesses and government regarding security measures. In the wake of the Pittsburgh massacre, now the APD is looking at religious venues.

“It’s been on our radar for several years, providing safety planing and giving people what-if scenarios,” Linn said. “And it’s a whole different world when you have to do it for places of refuge. You would think places of refuge and worship would be safe, but it’s not that kind of world anymore.”