Aspen’s Mayor Steve Skadron prides himself on his environmentally friendly policies, which translates into a cautious and somewhat lower-paced approach to development. But when it comes to his city’s brand new Chabad House? He’s a fan.
The Mayor, along with other state representatives including Congressman Scott Tipton and State Rep. Millie Hamner joined Rabbi Mendel Mintz and his wife Leiba, directors of Chabad of Aspen at the grand opening of the Chabad Jewish Community Center, a beautiful new building that will serve as the center for Jewish life in the city and its surrounding areas. Some 600 guests, representing the full spectrum of Aspen’s community, came out to celebrate the milestone event.
The $18 million building stands on an entire block of Aspen’s Main Street. Set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, the exterior of the 19,000 square foot building complements the rustic setting; inside, the sleek, elegant design reflects an aesthetic hospitable to the needs of Jewish community: a sanctuary with seating for 300, preschool, social hall, kitchen, a mikvah and offices will serve as a hub for Chabad’s vibrant programs.
Aspen, a popular holiday destination, is a city of ski-lifts and hiking trails, vacation homes and lodges. During peak season the population swells to around 25,000 while fewer than 7000 remain year-round, including some 500 Jewish locals. The city’s transient nature has always presented a unique challenge to community builders of all stripes. It’s hard to maintain a consistent and quality relationship with your members when half of them aren’t there for the majority of the year.
But Chabad has found a way to make it work. In fact for some community members, the consistent year-round population being so small is actually a good thing.
“For those of us who are here year-round, Chabad becomes a kind of second home ” says Jenny Rosenberg, a working mother of two and a member of the Chabad community since she moved to Aspen 10 years ago.
“You become very close with everyone.”
Jenny’s excitement about the grand opening was widely shared. “The place was packed,” she said, “there weren’t enough seats.” She is especially thrilled with the new kosher catering service that will open in the new center, making keeping kosher in Aspen—a 14 hour drive from the closest major Jewish population center, a lot easier.
Originally from Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago with a very large and active Jewish community, Jenny grew up attending a Reform congregation. She was always interested in a more traditional and observant form of Judaism though, so when she moved to Aspen and began looking for a Jewish community to join, Chabad was a natural fit.
“I started with a Mommy-and-Me program at the Chabad center and I never left.”
Now, 10 years later, both her children are enrolled at the Chabad Hebrew School and she remains an active and enthusiastic participant of the programs, lectures, and events that are offered. This, she says, is thanks to the warmth and friendliness of the Mintzs.
Parents of six—all born in Aspen—the Mintzs were both raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Fourteen years after settling here, the vistas of the Colorado Rockies still “blows them away” says Mrs. Mintz. But they’ve worked hard to make the environment more spiritually enriching, and with the new Chabad center, they expect a lot more in the way of Jewish educational and social growth for the local community.
Although the new building was at least a decade in the making, the Mintzs see this as a beginning. “The primary objective remains,” says the rabbi. “We have to reach every man, woman, and child in our community with the light of Torah and Judaism.”
Asked to explain the success of Chabad of Aspen, Rabbi Mintz offers one word: “Inclusiveness.” It is, he says, the best way to fulfill the Rebbe’s mandate to his shluchim: to seek out and reach out to every Jew with love and acceptance, a philosophy echoed in the new Chabad Center, where there is no membership fee and where, Rabbi Mintz says, “our goal is to make this a place where every Jew, no matter what place they are in their life, can feel totally and completely at home.”