Mountain Characters: Shereen Sarick, a woman of many hats
Shereen Sarick boasts many titles: mother, wife, daughter, character, camp counselor, environmentalist, substitute teacher, skier, Aspen Highlands ambassador, dog rescuer, triathlete, foster parent, vegan, volunteer, lover of the color orange — and groundhogs.
Now she can add rabbi to the list.
The gregarious Aspen resident was ordained as a rabbi last weekend in Delray Beach, Florida, after completing a yearlong online course. But, as she noted, “I’ve been training for this my whole life.”
At the ordainment ceremony, Sarick, 49, met her classmates for the first time — they came from as far away as Honolulu and Peabody, Massachusetts.
“Nothing will feel any different for the (Reform Jewish) community in Aspen,” she said in a telephone interview from Shwayder Camp on Mount Evans, where she’s a counselor for the program put on by Denver-based Temple Emanuel.
For the past five years, Sarick has filled in for Rabbi David Segal and his wife, Cantor Rollin Simmons, at the Aspen Jewish Congregation while they were away.
“The only difference I’ll have now is the name,” she said, adding she can now do weddings as well.
“I did this for me,” she continued. “I wanted the knowledge and I wanted the continuing education. The journey was just for me.”
But Sarick hardly lives a selfish life. She volunteers at The Thrift Shop of Aspen, teaches Tot Shabbat, and she and her husband Jordan have been foster parents to many youth. They also used to host children in the now-defunct Aspen Youth Experience. They still put up stragglers in their Aspen home — those needing a roof over their head.
“We take in 20-somethings who just need a break, saving up money to chase their dreams,” she said.
Among them is an Aspen Art Museum intern who is staying at their home this summer.
And soon, a teenage Nepalese girl, who Sarick and her son Jack befriended several years ago at a boarding school in Katmandu, will move in by August. Sarick and her son, then in eighth grade, were in Katmandu as part of a nine-month trip abroad.
But it hasn’t been easy. The April and May earthquakes that rocked the region — Pemba had visited Aspen previously in October on a cultural exchange — forced Sarick to expedite the process. She received reference letters from Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s offices and the Aspen High School assistant principal to help the cause.
“After the second earthquake on May 12, I jumped through all sorts of hoops to get her a student visa to come live with our family,” Sarick said.
Pemba’s parents chose not to raise her, Sarick said.
Pemba’s school was heavily damaged by the quakes, prompting Sarick and her father, Mark Rothman, who lives in Aspen to set up a charity called Friends of Marshyangdi School. The school is for 3-year-olds to 10th graders, some of whom are as old as 20, Sarick said.
Legally speaking, the Sarick couple can’t be considered foster or adoptive parents to Pemba, she said.
“What the government and the system say, I don’t care,” Sarick said. “We don’t use the word ‘foster’ and we don’t use the word ‘adopt.’ Those are legal terms. It’s just ‘heart adoption,’ and she’s joining our family. Pemba will attend Aspen High School in the fall, Sarick said.
Sarick permanently moved to Aspen in 1987 after visiting the area previously when her parents bought a condo here.
Her first job was at the Sundeck as the grill girl — she was vegetarian at the time, no less — yelling “cheeseburger! cheeseburger!” when they were ready.
She later returned to the University of Michigan to earn a degree in environmental education, working as a naturalist at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies in 1991. She left Aspen to work at such spots as Arkansas, Arizona and even Australia. She eventually converted from being vegetarian to vegan after learning more about the health benefits of going vegan, as well as beef industry practices that troubled her.
While she spends much time traveling, usually for volunteer efforts, Aspen will remain her home base.
“It feels like home,” she said. “Everything I want in life is right here for me in Aspen. I’m so grateful for everything.”
But there’s still one challenge awaiting her. Sarick wants to learn how to ride a unicycle, just so she can trek one block in Aspen’s popular Fourth of July parade. When her son Jack went to boarding school, Sarick began to attempt the balancing act, but she didn’t get far.
“I suffered empty-nester syndrome and bought a unicycle,” she said. “It didn’t distract me enough, so that’s when I entered rabbinical school.”
Now that she’s rabbi, she’s ready to get back on the one-wheeler. Really, a unicyclist? Why not? It seems a natural fit for her growing list of titles.
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