Guest commentary: Spring update from Aspen Jewish Congregation
Although both holidays celebrate the renewal of spring and are among the holiest and most joyous on their respective religious calendars, Passover and Easter do not always overlap, as they will this weekend.
This spring season will certainly be one of transition for the Aspen Jewish Congregation as we prepare to bid farewell to our wonderful rabbi of five years, Emily Segal, who is leaving to lead a large Reform congregation in Phoenix. In July, Rabbi Marc Gellman, who is rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, New York, and hosts “The God Squad” podcast, will join the AJC as Rabbi in Residence while our search committee identifies a new full-time spiritual leader.
Part of the AJC’s upcoming transition may well include the earnest search for a new home for the first time in over 30 years. I would like to shed some light community-wide on what has been in the newspapers recently regarding the AJC’s relationship with the Aspen Chapel Trustees and their purported forthcoming bankruptcy filing. The Prince of Peace Chapel has been the AJC’s beloved home for more than three decades. While our congregation has always felt that we are a “permanent part” of the chapel as specified in a 1989 agreement that gives us the right to be there for 99 years, we have never sought or claimed any ownership interest in the chapel building or the real property on which it sits. Our claim has always been that we are a partner in the use, occupancy and maintenance of the chapel, which is consistent with the agreement as well as the spirit of the Aspen Chapel’s mission, as we understand it.
The AJC well understands that in addition to the sanctuary of a wonderful home, the 1989 agreement also obligates us to share in the building’s much-needed maintenance, as we have done over the years. However, when the very agreement giving the AJC rights to call the chapel home is rejected for no credible reason by the trustees who ultimately control the chapel, as it was in June of 2020, we also know that it is imperative for us to work to protect our congregation and the rights afforded to us 33 years ago.
When the trustees ultimately told the AJC we had no rights and no agreement to occupy our home, in spite of 30-plus years of paying our proportionate share of maintenance expenses for the chapel, and despite tendering payment for the disputed roof replacement on the sole condition that our rights under the 1989 agreement were acknowledged, we were faced with no other recourse but to ask a court to legally vindicate the 1989 agreement and our rights.
I would never presume that the agreement has always worked perfectly, especially considering there are people and emotions involved on both sides. I also do not pretend to understand the trustees’ bankruptcy strategy, particularly because we believe the AJC has repeatedly proposed amicable resolutions through the course of our negotiations that would have provided for the management of financial resources and a long-term path forward for the assurances of chapel maintenance requirements.
If it ultimately comes to pass that our congregation must find a new home, we want the community to know that the AJC would never simply choose to leave our sanctuary. Our congregation would embrace the challenge of relocating together while always remaining grateful the chapel has been an integral part of our story. As we enter the renewal seasons of Passover and Easter, my sincere hope is that regardless of the outcome between the chapel trustees and the AJC, our relationship with the chapel community and the entire Roaring Fork Valley will flourish. Whatever may divide us, I know that we are all united by the splendor of where we live and the distinct spirituality that so many of us find in this beautiful community.
The AJC begins observing Passover at sundown Friday with our annual Community Seder in the Aspen Chapel Gallery, and on Sunday the Chapel will host Easter celebrations. Whatever you may celebrate this weekend and always, on behalf of the AJC, I wish you blessings and peace.
Craig Navias is president of the board of the Aspen Jewish Congregation, which has been a center for Judaism in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley since 1973.
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