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Small World

Denver evolved from a patchwork of small towns, and its history reflects myriad communities that slowly knitted together to create the metropolis we now call home. But it's the lingering differences that make an annual celebration of Denver's rough-and-ready history worthwhile.

Historic Denver Week, which begins Monday, May 13, will give Denver denizens a chance to re-explore city roots. They can look all the way back to the cultural foundation of Jewish communities of nineteenth-century Europe: Regardless of where the Jewish immigrants came from originally -- the fairly assimilated urban communities in Germany or the poor shtetls of Russia and Poland -- waves of them surged west in search of opportunity and religious freedom.

In conjunction with Historic Denver Week happenings, 84-year-old Ida Uchill, a Denver native, will present Pioneers, Peddlers & Tsadikim on May 14. It's a free slide presentation based on her book of the same name; together they're a kind of ongoing research project that focuses on Jewish immigrants who ended up here in Colorado. Whether you're Jewish or not, it's a fascinating, unfolding tale of tiny microcosms developing within a larger microcosm -- devout Hasidim and progressive Zionists, rabbis and businessmen, merchants and professionals, consumptives and hardy farmers, all forming an enduring community in spite of their differences.

What tied them all together? One simple thing -- and it's a concept, Uchill notes, that's hard to pin down if you're not a Yiddish speaker: tsdokah, roughly translation as righteousness, an inherent, God-directed drive to perform mitzvahs, or extend a helping hand to those in need. Not exactly charity or philanthropy, tsdokah is more of an automatic duty. And Uchill hopes to show her audience on Tuesday how the concept is, and always has been, a cornerstone of the local Jewish community. If you don't go, you'll just have to take her word for it: "I'm authentic," Uchill boasts. "My history [book] starts in 1859, and I've been around at least half of the time since then." She's certainly got the right credentials.


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