Since its founding in the late 1960s, the Village in Vail, Colorado has had one Interfaith Chapel for use by congregations of many faiths. Now, for the first time in Village history, an exclusively Jewish sanctuary is opening up in town. Chabad Jewish Center has just purchased a building to be used as its permanent home, overturning a longstanding amendment in the process.
“We had to navigate through many loops to get this done,” says Rabbi Dovid Mintz, who started Chabad Vail with his wife Doba in 2006. The process required a change in a Village amendment that has been in place since the early 1970s, proscribing any religious facilities within village limits.
Until now, Chabad has operated out of rented storefront outside the Village. But for the growing community, the need for a larger, centrally-located building that would be easier to access was obvious. “We have higher visibility now,” says Rabbi Mintz. “More people can reach us. We’re in a much bigger facility, which leads to a better experience.”
After hiring a planner to represent them in the town council, Chabad obtained a conditional use permit, allowing them to operate in the village by expanding permitted uses for the building. Chabad’s petition for its right of religious expression and to serve the best interests of the community was successful.
The Village is a popular tourist area lined with restaurants, shops, and hot spots. Chabad’s new location is situated in Lionshead Village, just a couple of feet from the gondola, and comes with all the benefits of the ski resorts’ parking spaces. The building is so close to the ski lifts that Chabad has adopted the village’s popular descriptor, “ski in, ski out,” to suit their own operations, advertising services as “Daven (pray) in, daven out.”
Joyce Newton, who owns a tour and travel company in Vail, says she is proud to mention the new shul to prospective tourists, regardless of their religion. “It makes our town appear more substantive, more real, and more like the cohesive, supportive community that it has become since my settling in Vail in 1984,” she says. “Besides, the setting is breathtaking and the building is enormously attractive.”
Two stories high and over 8,000-square feet, the building requires extensive renovation but is already being put to good use; this past Chanukah, Chabad hosted many holiday events, including the Chanukah chocolate factory and a community Shabbat dinner in the center. The new space will allow Chabad to expand their many programs, which include a Mommy-and-Me group, weekly JLI classes, holiday celebrations, lectures, and Shabbat services.
“This is going to be a whole new experience for the Jewish community in Vail, now that we finally have a physical location that we can call home,” says Rabbi Mintz. “It’s a unique opportunity and we’re going to optimize it.”
Newton agrees. “The whole community is buzzing its approval,” she says. “The most remarkable fact is that the building is located in the core of the resort, giving easy access to the ski lifts.”
The Jewish population in Vail fluctuates, peaking during winter and summer. Forty-five children are enrolled in Chabad’s Hebrew school, and about 50 women attend the women’s group meetings throughout the year. During busy seasons, Chabad hosts tourists and groups in addition to Village regulars.
Community members Dan and Olga Barron are grateful. “Chabad and the Mintz family are the foundation and the light of our community,” Olga says. “It is so natural and wonderful to finally have a new, spacious building to bring all of us locals together and welcome the travelers in the heart of this wondrous place that is Vail.”
For more information about Chabad of Vail, visit their website at www.jewishvail.com.