Shalom to Aspen’s new synagogue
ASPEN ” Progress is being made for Aspen’s Jewish community as the city’s first synagogue is about to be constructed.
This spring, the L’Auberge d’Aspen Lodge at 435 Main St. will be knocked down and replaced with the Jewish Community Center Chabad of Aspen, a 34,000-square-foot community center that will take up half a city block.
Rabbi Mendel Mintz said construction will take an estimated 18 months. Fundraising for the facility is still under way, with about half, or $10 million, raised so far. He added that all of the money has come from the local community and a handful of donations have been for more than $1 million.
The Jewish Community Center bought the property in April 2003 for $6.3 million. Between $16 and $17 million will be needed to construct the building, Mintz said.
Six of the historic cabins will remain on the property, which will be situated along Third Street and the alley.
The synagogue will feature a child care facility that will accommodate up to 50 children, as well as a 3,000-square-foot community ballroom, a teen game room, a library and a lecture hall, among other amenities.
“As an institution, it will be a Jewish community center, but it will also be for the whole community,” Mintz said. “We’re excited.”
Arthur Chabon, a New York-based architect who is designing the project, described the center as an Aspen Institute that studies Judaism.
“It’s not your conventional synagogue,” he said. “It really is for the entire community.”
Mintz is a practicing Orthodox Jew, but the community center will be traditional, he said. Shabbot services held on Friday and Saturday will be traditional, which require men to sit on one side of the sanctuary while women sit on the other.
The Jewish community in Aspen has grown substantially in the past decade and so has the need for a synagogue.
Along with the pride of the center’s successes have come the challenges of its growth: lack of adequate classroom space for current and future school programs; overflow crowds at services and community events; lack of adequate facilities in which to offer many sorely needed programs; and lack of a conducive headquarters to serve as the hub of Chabad’s outreach activities throughout the region.
“We’ve really come a long way over the past seven years,” Mintz said. “But the greatest days for Chabad of the Roaring Fork Valley are yet to come.”
Currently, the Jewish Community Center has Judaic studies for 65 kids throughout the valley with one temporary location at the Eagle County Community Center in El Jebel and another in a small cabin where the synagogue will be located.
While there is no official membership, hundreds of people are involved in the center and more than 1,000 people attend services during the high holidays, which have been held typically at the St. Regis.
“The success is truly humbling and I’m very grateful,” Mintz said.
The Jewish center is separate from the Aspen Jewish Congregation, which meets at the Aspen Chapel and the Aspen Community Church. There are no plans currently to combine both groups.
“We’ve had some discussions, but it’s too early to say where that is leading to,” Mintz said.
The project has received government approvals and building permits are pending. The development team spent one and a half years in front of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) before it granted approval. It took only one half-hour meeting for the City Council to approve the project.
“The city acknowledged that it’s something that’s needed in the community,” Mintz said.
And there was virtually no opposition from neighbors.
“We were very surprised,” said Community Development Director Chris Bendon, adding the facility was approved with only four or five parking spaces.
Half of the facility will be located underground, and the building’s design meets the guidelines of Main Street, which is a historic district.
“There’s nothing that screams synagogue,” said Sara Adams, the city’s historic preservation planner.
Chabon said he worked closely with the HPC to ensure the center conformed to the neighborhood and the street.
“We wanted to create something civic that conforms to the constraints of Main Street and those cabins,” he said.
Harry Feldman, vice president of the Jewish community center, said it will be a place for the masses.
“We’re finding more and more interest in the community,” he said, adding the facility can be rented out to the public. “The community center is really for the community.”
From synagogue services to youth groups; early childhood programs to Hebrew school and teen programs; community outreach activities to an adult education program, the center prides itself on being a place where people from all walks of life ” regardless of previous background or affiliation ” can feel at home, Mintz said.
The new center not only will enable the organization to broaden the scope of its current activities by effectively quadrupling its current capacities and enrollments, it also will make a whole new range of programs and services available to the community at large.
That includes the Mikvah, youth activity center, a kosher cafe and the Center for Jewish Thought and Culture ” a retreat center that will host leading scholars and lecturers from around the world for seminars and lectures.
“With his project, we’re not just looking to kick things up a notch or two,” Mintz said.
“We’re looking to take the accomplishments of the past seven years and use them as a foundation and springboard to a whole new beginning.”
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