Aspen is known for skiing, stunning vistas and celebrities of all kinds. Now it may become known for a brand-new, state-of-the-art building reflecting Colorado’s rustic landscape that offers Jewish amenities of all kinds.
Aspen’s Jewish community and its guests gathered Aug. 7 — smack in the middle of tourist season — to open an $18 million Jewish community center and the first synagogue in the state west of Denver. At 19,000 square feet, it is the largest Jewish center between Denver and the Pacific Coast.
For the 400 or so Jewish locals among Aspen’s permanent population of 6,500, it was the culmination of 10 years of communal effort.
“Aspen is a unique destination for leaders in all kinds of fields; it attracts a certain type of individual. It’s a resort community that offers natural beauty, arts, culture, and is a hub for conferences and seminars — there’s quite a lot going on here,” said Rabbi Mendel Mintz, who runs Chabad Jewish Community Center Aspen Valley along with his wife, Leiba, who directs the Hebrew school.
The Chabad center in the heart of the Roaring Fork Valley is 200 miles from Denver, about a four-hour drive away and, until now, also the location of the nearest mikvah.
The new center occupies an entire block on the town’s main street and, according to Mintz, can’t help but be noticed. “It’s seen by everyone on a daily basis. We’re within walking distance of any hotel — the farthest is about a mile away in a town that’s only about two miles wide.
“That makes it easy to come to Shabbat dinner or walk to services or to classes — really anything,” he said. “We are the central address of serving Jewish needs for local residents and guests alike. If someone needs challah for Shabbat or to say Kaddish, we are here in an easily accessible place.”
Aspen’s population can double or even triple during prime tourist times such as Thanksgiving through April, and during July and August, when Aspen becomes a whirlwind of activity. Many Jewish visitors look for a place for their spiritual needs. During summer, they also make good use of Chabad’s Gan Israel camp for children.
The new facility will provide ample space for the preschool, “Mommy & Me” program, Hebrew school (65 children currently attend), youth/teen center and summer camp, in addition to a spacious synagogue, a ballroom and multipurpose area, offices and classrooms.
Mintz and his wife are from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, but their six children were born in Aspen, where the couple arrived more than 14 years ago. And for the record, they do ski — most of the kids and the rabbi, who learned on the Colorado slopes.