The Blessing

Instead, Baskin has decided on a Disney-theme Purim, complete with songs and shtick. "One needs a sense of humor," he says, "and Judaism has it. The beginning of the Torah is full of puns."

Right now Baskin is enjoying a brief moment at home, in his study, which is lined with enough books to require actual rolling ladders. It also contains a seriously hyperactive computer.

"Well, I volunteer on AOL's 'Ask-a-Rabbi,'" Baskin explains, as he logs on. "People send questions--soul-searching questions. It's a challenge to help them answer."

The monitor screen blinks twice; a computerized voice says Shalom.
"Ha! See? Isn't that funny? Anyway, there is now such a thing as a cyber-synagogue. Because of the Internet, you can be Jewish anywhere. Why not live in a place that is spiritually perfect? What we are at Beth Evergreen is liberal, post-denominational, progressive--the old affiliations aren't as important to us. We come together trying to forge a new Judaism. We're just hanging around being Jews. Look at this--here's a question I had to answer: 'Dear Rabbi, can I be an atheist Jew?'"

Great question! What could be more Jewish, Rabbi Baskin likes to think, than a great question? He produces a book called Finding God: Ten Jewish Responses. "See? Not one response, ten responses. Anyway, my wife and I wanted to live up here not just because of the physical gloriousness--you know, 'I lift up mine eyes...,' but--"

The phone rings.
"Shalom?" Baskin answers, typing away. "Oh, hi! Hey, are we on for Purim? I'm gonna send you this wild service, and you can start to think up ditties. Like, the Aleynu sung to the tune of the Addams Family? And I'll put in my favorite knock-knock jokes."

"Anyway," he says, hanging up, "it's not just the physical beauty of Colorado but the warmth of the people. You're informal, I'm informal. On Yom Kippur, our Kol Nidre is played on a flugelhorn. These are things that would never happen back East."

Baskin's role as Beth Evergreen's first rabbi--after two dozen years in which congregants took turns leading services--ends up being a combination of diplomacy, inspiration and nuts-and-bolts instruction. At a recent service, he was heard to say: "I'm reading this part in English, because all of you don't read Hebrew. YET." His current projects include teaching a class in Jewish mysticism at his home and planting items in the local paper to raise awareness of what Jews do--"in an area that's largely ignorant," he admits. He's just finished hosting a lecture on the hereditary Ashkenazi breast-cancer gene and is about to turn down a rich Boulder woman who wants him to officiate at a private Passover seder. ("Where's the community in that?") In weeks to come, he will take heat for playing an orchestral work by John Denver at his mysticism class, sit in on rezoning meetings for the new property, and watch, delighted, as his Purim service leaves them rolling in the aisles.

"I consider myself a Jewish tour guide," he says. "When people tell me they don't believe in God, I say, 'So what kind of God don't you believe in?'"

Beth Evergreen's Torah usually reposes in an ark made by local woodworker Albert Greenberg from plans originally designed to produce a gun cabinet. Right now, however, the ark needs repairs, and the Torah itself is wrapped in a pile of quilts made by Albert's wife, the novelist Joanne Greenberg, author of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, among many other works, and one of Beth Evergreen's original eight members.

"Look at her," Joanne Greenberg says, unrolling the scrolls. "You're supposed to call her 'her,' by the way. She's a Holocaust survivor."

When Greenberg moved to the Colorado foothills in 1956--much to the dismay of her family back in New York City--she brought her Judaism with her, uncertain of the direction it was going to take.

"I grew up Jewish," she recalls. "We lit candles on Friday night and said the blessings. We made a rapid appearance in the synagogue on the High Holidays. But Judaism was old-country stuff, orthodox Judaism. All kinds of poverty and despair seemed to cling to it." In Colorado, as a new wife and mother of two, Greenberg embraced what she could. "I am a religious person," she explains. "Which doesn't mean 'better.' It's a flavor you either taste or don't taste. It was obvious to me all along, and I'm the only person in my family who tastes it. I used to go off to the quarry and read the High Holiday service."

Fascinated by the intricacies of the Torah, she taught herself Hebrew. ("It's also the only way you get all the jokes," she points out.) One day she received a call from a Kansas City rabbi, who told her his hobby was telephoning authors whose books he'd enjoyed.

"He said my book had done a lot for him," Greenberg recalls, "and asked if he could do anything for me. So I told him all my troubles. Two days later, a whole package of books arrived--how to do the bar mitzvah, how to teach my children. Then he said, 'Your sons don't have enough Jewish contact; send them to me for part of every summer.' And I did. This man was one of the diamond souls sprinkled throughout the world."

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