Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Aspen awaiting first synagogue

$16 million structure on Main Street slated for completion in 2010
By By Julie Hutchinson, Special to the Rocky

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Jews have been a part of life in Aspen since miners first staked claims in 1879.

There has been a Jewish congregation in the resort town for 30 years, meeting in a church. Now a second congregation is about to give Aspen its first synagogue.

The $16 million, 34,000-square-foot structure will occupy half a city block at 435 W. Main St. alongside exclusive boutiques, restaurants and high-priced hotels.

The Jewish Community Center Chabad of Aspen, which will incorporate six existing structures declared as historic, will include a sanctuary and lecture hall, ballroom, classrooms, library, gym, mikvah (ritual bath), kosher cafe and retail shop.

The Jewish Community Center bought the land in 2003 for $6.3 million and construction will begin this summer, with completion slated for 2010.

New York-based Chabon Architects worked for more than a year with the city's preservation commission on the design. Aspen-based John Olson Builders will be the general contractor.

Chabad of Aspen will be the first synagogue in the Roaring Fork Valley, according to Executive Director Rabbi Mendel Mintz, 32, who was sent to Aspen eight years ago with his wife, Leiba, after teaching in California and Georgia.

"This is important for many reasons, first and primarily that none of those things that we are building exist now," Mintz said. "Secondly, there is no Jewish home in Aspen. It's a place that has a strong Jewish presence and people who are very proud to be Jewish, not to mention visitors."

The Aspen Jewish Congregation, which is not affiliated with any denomination of Judaism, never built its own facility. Though separate from Mintz's group, the two congregations are friendly.

"We have a good working relationship with them," Mintz said.

Chabad Aspen currently holds classes for about 65 children in a small building on the West Main Street site and counts as many as 1,000 participants during major religious holidays, when services are held at a hotel to accommodate crowds.

Chabad, one of the fastest-growing branches of Orthodox Judaism with centers around the globe, reaches out to all Jews regardless of their level of observance. Mintz said his aim is not to build an Orthodox community but a place where all Jews feel welcome.

He estimates that about 1,000 Jews consider Aspen their primary residence. "If you asked me to prove it, I couldn't - it's based on people you meet on the street," he said.

Aspen isn't the only high-end skiing mecca where new centers of Jewish worship and culture are opening. Mintz's brother, Dovid Mintz, founded the Chabad Center of the Vail Valley in 2006. In May, Jackson Hole, Wyo., will welcome Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, who visited Aspen for a weekend "to see how we did it," Mintz said.

Certainly one reason Aspen's Jewish population is growing so fast is the rabbi's family. Mintz and his wife have welcomed four children since they arrived in 2000.

"And they're all Aspen natives," Mintz said. "Two of them were on the mountain yesterday."

Major synagogue donors

Chabad Aspen's fundraising goal is $22 million. As of December, $10.2 million had been raised. Some of the million-dollar-plus donors include:

* Steel Partners Foundation. This Aspen-based nonprofit is funded by Steel Partners, a hedge fund operated by entrepreneur Warren Lichtenstein, an ally of billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn.

* Roland and Dawn Arnall. Roland Arnall, who died in Los Angeles on March 17, was ranked No. 85 on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans in 2006. He founded Ameriquest Mortgage Co., which ceased doing business last year. Arnall helped found the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

* Gerald and Barbara Hines. Gerald Hines is founder and chairman of Hines Interests, an international real estate development firm based in Houston. Hines owns the 460,438-square-foot Mountain View Corporate Center in the Interlocken Office Park. Hines developed the 52-story Wells Fargo Center in downtown Denver, better known as the cash register building, completed in 1983, and the 180-acre Five Trees ski-in/ski-out residential community in Aspen.

© Rocky Mountain News

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