By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Jefferson County's first synagogue ever is a ranch house located between a nursing home and a vet's office in Evergreen. "It was built in 1962," says congregation president David Froman, the man who galvanized members to raise enough money to buy the building. "At this point, we could turn it into a museum for its outrageous color scheme, which is expressed in shag carpeting. It's like the White House. It's got a Blue Room, a Red Room...you should see it."
But see it quickly, before Froman has the building rezoned as a religious school/ preschool/administrative facility and begins raising money for the rest of the congregation's grand plan: not only a new synagogue with shag carpeting banned for all eternity, but a social hall and exterior landscaping, too. This may well be the last year High Holy Day services are held at the Methodist church across the highway. Official family memberships have nearly doubled in the past two years--to 150 families. That's intense growth for a congregation that started 25 years ago with eight people meeting in a guy named Bernie's living room.
"We're growing, but it's never been our goal to be big," Froman says. "In fact, quite the opposite."
In fact, the word "unorthodox" could have been coined to describe Beth Evergreen. "For years, we had no overhead and were very anti-conformist," Froman says. "Dues were three dollars." Now they're $400 per family per year and due to rise, but Yom Kippur afternoon still consists of a hike up in the nearby Three Sisters open space; winter is marked by a popular "Torah 'n' Tubing" retreat near Winter Park; and the congregation has yet to affiliate with any of Judaism's five official branches.
"Yeah, we've purposely kept all that on the back burner," Froman explains. "It's a congregation of geographical convenience, not necessarily philosophical agreement. People come from all over the mountains. We have pretty much decided to just be Jewish."
This may have been the only kind of synagogue that would work for Froman, who grew up attending a liberal Reform temple in Northern California at a time, he says, "when assimilation was paramount." Despite staying close enough to his Jewish roots to meet his future wife at a community seder, the 41-year-old Froman did not consider himself an active Jew until his move to Colorado about four years ago. "It seemed with people my age, we're searching for a connection to our roots, or the spiritual quality we didn't have growing up," he says. "A lot are reaching out for religion. It turns out we may not be eternal after all."
Froman's spiritual quest was compounded by the fact that he and his wife, having started an Internet-based furniture business, were hungry for adult company. "We realized we were committed to the idea of a Jewish community," he remembers. "The way I see it, culturally, if you're Jewish, you're Jewish, no matter what you believe. It's like being Chinese. You have no choice. So when I came back here and looked at all the Jews scattered around the mountains, I decided to do what I could to make things happen, to stimulate community."
This is how Beth Evergreen ended up with a president who doesn't keep kosher, doesn't consider himself particularly religious--"Getting closer to God is a personal thing with me, a thing you don't necessarily do in a room full of people every week"--but, like any good Jew, enjoys sinking his teeth into a religious debate.
"Take the issue of chosen-ness, which comes right out of the Bible," he says. "The Reconstructionist view is that it's not so good. They decided to call themselves 'the choosing people' instead. Of course, about 10 percent of Jews believe every single word of the Bible and are extremely strict, but, you know, I don't. The Jewish religion has had the good sense to be flexible. To be rigid doesn't serve the needs of anyone up here."
The question is: What does? To find the answer, two years ago Froman formed a steering committee, which came up with a pair of action points. First: Get Beth Evergreen a building to call its own. Second: Get a rabbi, already.
Beth Evergreen had a strange package to offer a prospective rabbi, but Eliot Baskin, who also holds a nearly full-time job as the City of Denver's Jewish chaplain, seemed pre-ordained. A Toronto native who received much of his rabbinical education back East, he'd always wanted to settle in Colorado. His wife, a newly minted orthodontist, had found a suitable practice in Evergreen. His two young sons could grow up as "mountain Jews," a concept that continues to intrigue and delight him. And the mountain Jews who made up the Beth Evergreen congregation seemed to appreciate Baskin's iconoclastic brand of religion.
"We interviewed a lot of people," Froman remembers. "In retrospect, we were extremely lucky to have made the choice we did. We're about to celebrate Purim, which is a real jokester holiday that Eliot takes very seriously. He's already rented a Super Rabbi costume, and he wanted to do the service at the Little Bear, although it turned out it would be hard to do that with kids. It was too bad. Hey, we could have taken down all the bras for one night and put up yarmulkes."