Temple Micah Honoring High Holidays by Serving Meals to Safe-Camping Site Residents

Park Hill United Methodist Church shares its building with Temple Micah.
Park Hill United Methodist Church shares its building with Temple Micah. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
Food for Thought
Temple Micah marks the High Holy Days by serving meals to safe-camping site.
By Conor McCormick-Cavanagh

During the Jewish High Holy Days, Temple Micah has welcomed back congregation members for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And as worshippers attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in person, Temple Micah congregation members are also meeting their new neighbors.

Temple Micah, which counts about 180 households in its membership, rents its space from Park Hill United Methodist Church, which is located on Montview Boulevard between Forest and Glencoe streets. Since June, the church has been leasing its parking lot to the Colorado Village Collaborative, which runs a safe-camping site for people experiencing homelessness there. The plan to set up a safe-camping site in South Park Hill angered certain neighbors, some of whom have sued and fought against the decision in city administrative hearings. But Temple Micah congregation members have welcomed those living at the site.

"I volunteered just on my own at the safe outdoor space just to see what it was all about. Then I saw that they were asking for meals on different days, lunches or dinners. I thought it made sense that our congregation would bring meals on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur because we would be on site," says Johanna Ladis, a Temple Micah congregation member who has been leading efforts to provide meals on the Jewish holy days to the three dozen people living next to the synagogue.

The site provides meals for residents through what staffers refer to as a "meal train." Volunteers from across Denver, including some neighbors, sign up for lunch or dinner slots and then bring meals at those times.

"This project has really brought out the community in a lot of folks and a lot of faith communities and individual families. It’s been such an honor. Our meal train operates consistently. We rarely have gaps where we have to purchase a meal. It’s been one of those amazing things," says Cuica Montoya, the manager of the site.

Temple Micah congregation members provided 35 lunches on September 7 for Rosh Hashanah. And they're set to provide 35 more lunches on September 16 for Yom Kippur.

"Some people did ten, some people did three. It was about eight families that volunteered," explains Ladis. "These ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we think about how we can be better people, better humans."
click to enlarge The safe-camping site in Park Hill. - EVAN SEMÓN
The safe-camping site in Park Hill.
Evan Semón
The decision to provide meals came about as members of Temple Micah contemplated ways to put their faith into action, something they try to do every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

"We always have some balance of action. The intent of the holiday is really inward, and that's important, but we've always had some action," explains Adam Morris, the rabbi at Temple Micah.

Denver has had safe-camping sites since December, when the nonprofit Earthlinks and the Colorado Village Collaborative set up two sites in Capitol Hill for people experiencing homelessness, complete with ice-fishing tents and centralized access to services, showers and toilets. When the six-month leases on those spaces ran out midway through this year, the CVC signed new leases with Regis University and Park Hill United Methodist Church to operate sites on their properties.

The Regis University site, located on a parking lot on the school's campus, has been largely non-controversial. The Park Hill United Methodist Church move, however, immediately angered some neighbors who felt that the decision had been sprung on them without notice and that concerns about safety and potential nuisances had not been worked out beforehand. A lawsuit related to those concerns and issues with the way that the City of Denver handled permitting the site is pending. It's the second lawsuit regarding the site; the first one named Nathan Adams, the lead pastor at Park Hill United Methodist, as one of the plaintiffs.

"I respect people's rights; that's the way to disagree," says Morris of the current suit. "And that's okay. It's not with violence and it's not with vitriol, and it's going through the legal system. While I don't agree, if you disagree, follow legal recourse." Adams consulted with Morris before the church offered to lease the parking lot for the safe-camping site.

Morris feels the site is well managed and quiet. "Unless I go and peek my head in, it's pretty quiet over there, even though it's just in the parking lot. I think that it's been very positive so far," he says.

This isn't the first time that Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah have taken action for social causes. In August 2017, the church offered sanctuary to Araceli Velasquez, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, so that she could avoid being detained and deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement; she lived there for eleven months with her family, including three young boys.

The temple now lights a candle during services to recognize people experiencing homelessness in Denver. "We started this custom when we were hosting Araceli and her family in sanctuary," recalls Morris. "Whenever we gathered for communal prayer, we lit the candle."

The glowing candle represented the temple's "commitment to Araceli and to our values of creating a just, compassionate world," Morris adds. "That feels like a right, authentic ritual."

The Temple Micah congregation has also started collecting various items to create care packages that members can hand out to people experiencing homelessness.

"We’re putting those together on Thursday [September 16], and then members will keep them in their cars, so as you see people and you’re driving at intersections, you're able to offer them something with water, snacks, socks, sunscreen, things that could be helpful," says Ladis. "It’s definitely an integral part of the Jewish faith, giving back and helping the less fortunate, helping our community and helping our neighbors."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.