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Vision for a New Aish Kodesh

When written in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters.

One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”

– John F. Kennedy, 1959

Aish LogoThe people of Boulder suffered the shock of the flood which struck in the days between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. For us Jews, the timing could not have been worse. Months of preparation, both personal and communal, physical and spiritual were literally washed away. I remember the conversations I had with my friend Rabbi Marc Soloway in the days and even hours leading up to Yom Kippur, wondering if our respective congregations would still be able to hold services. Thank G-d Bonai Shalom was able to proceed (with a lot of last minute scrambling) and they were a pillar of support and kindness, opening their doors to anyone without a spiritual home for our holiest of days.

At Aish Kodesh we were not so fortunate. In the last phases of preparation for Yom Kippur the rains came. It all happened so quickly and we did our best to respond with limited resources. Rabbi Hoffman and his son Ari were slated to come up from Denver to help run services for Yom Kippur, but, the roads were impassable and the tent we had set up as our sanctuary had turned into a swamp. Sadly, we had to cancel our services and personally, I felt crushed, physically, emotionally and spiritually; but, in many ways it was the deepest Yom Kippur of my life. What else could I do but cry out to G-d from the depths? I spent most of the day alone, but at one point I wandered over to Bonai Shalom in time to hear some inspiring words of Rabbi Soloway, receiving comfort and consolation from many people.

All of our congregations have suffered losses and are still feeling the effects of post traumatic stress. At the same time, we are fortunate to live in a community that values unity and diversity, with people reaching out wherever and however they can. The way people organized and mobilized was inspiring.

Aish Kodesh has been in crisis mode for almost six months now. We have suffered more losses in this time than ever before in our history: Our beloved rabbi and his family left us after almost a decade. Our board fractured over a contentious vote. Our director resigned after years of sterling service which she performed with her entire heart and soul. A new board was formed and stepped into a difficult period of transition. Several members left amidst pain and misunderstanding. In the wake of this, we began planning our first high holiday cycle without a rabbi and executive director. Somehow we managed and were even able to erect a beautiful sukkah in the wake of the devastating flood and to expand it for a community wide event honoring our beloved Morah Yehudis Fishman (may she live to be 120!) thanks to the dedication of many people and organizations.

It seemed we might be able to keep things humming along with classes and Shabbat services until we found a rabbi who could bring the community together and heal the tensions that existed. Unfortunately that was not to be and with the loss of funding it seemed that we had no other option than to close our doors and say kaddish for Aish Kodesh. After a community meeting last Thursday, which felt very grim indeed, Elon Bar-Evan, the president of the board, wrote a letter to our community signaling the end of our beloved kehillah… or so it seemed. Elon, who sacrificed so much in terms of time, money and energy, announced his plan to step down as president and de facto director. He called for a commitment from our membership to help steer us away from a looming fiscal cliff. Several ideas were proposed, but, no clear solution was in sight.

The following Shabbat we had a strong turnout. Looking around the room at people I have come to know and love, I knew in my heart that we could not let this die. A synagogue is not a building, but, rather the people whose lives are touched by the experience of fellowship and the wisdom of Torah. Feeling a renewed spirit of hope, I found myself encouraging and in turn being encouraged by members. A vision has begun to emerge with the means to make it a reality. Since Friday, we have experienced profound acts of kindness every day: Expressions of empathy and offers of logistical support from Congregations Har HaShem, Nevei Kodesh, Bonai Shalom and Chabad; counsel from rabbis, teachers and elders; and monetary donations along with pledges of support.

Near the end of the Amidah (our thrice daily prayer) are the words “We give thanks to You… the Rock of our lives, Shield of our salvation… for Your miracles which are with us everyday; and for your wonders and favors at all all times… You are good for Your compassion never fails.” I see the hand of G-d working through the agency of the good people of Boulder and beyond. We at Aish Kodesh are filled with gratitude toward the many who have responded and to you who are reading this now.

I believe we can move forward with a renewed spirit to keep this holy fire burning. To those who have felt hurt or disenfranchised along the way, we ask your forgiveness and extend our hands in friendship. Whatever the future of Aish Kodesh is, I want to echo the sentiments of Rabbi Soloway in his article by acknowledging that we are “One people with one heart.” Whatever our differences may be, I hear the words of our beloved Reb Zalman (may he be blessed with health and long life) “There is only one way to get it together and that is together.”

Our doors at Aish Kodesh are open. We will be holding Shabbat services at 1545 Cherryvale through the end of January. Please join us for prayer, Torah study, a nosh or a “l’chaim!” Please visit our website at http://boulderaishkodesh.org or call us at 303-443-2497 for more information and to contact us with any questions, concerns or offers of assistance.

May you and your loved ones be blessed with health, happiness and abundance. May this Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees, nourish our roots deeply so that we may extend our branches into the world bringing about tikkun olam and a new day for us all.

About Lev Ettelson

Lev Ettelson
Reb Lev Ettelson serves the Jewish community of Boulder as a teacher and Ba'al Tefillah (prayer leader).

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One comment

  1. Lev's posting above understandably shows a member of Aish working hard to save his Shul, or at least a sometimes minyan. Throughout he refers to "fractures", "pain and misunderstanding", "healing" and other emotionally charged views of what the problems are facing Aish.

    A more sober analysis would indicate that the real reason Aish lost membership, especially in the second half of 2013, was a lack of attractive services and programs from the Shul, a lack of a clear plan despite frequent requests for one, and a lack of accountability and leadership from its Board. These are all practical reasons why people disassociated themselves – not because one (and only one) board member had a notable disagreement.

    Continuing to state that the reason for Aish's still poor position is that some people were "hurt or disenfranchised" shows that Aish representatives continue to lack an accurate perspective on this situation. Most people left Aish because they were simply uninterested in and uninspired by Aish, and did not want their precious time and money to go to an organization that really had no organization. And since it seems that a new leader (not Lev) along with the same old Board is likely to lead this so called new Aish, with seeming no interest or awareness in addressing real issues like the lack of family programs and education, there should be seriously strong doubts that Aish will have any chance to be – or indeed should be – a proper hub for the broader orthodox community.

    Aish failed its old membership and in turn the orthodox community time and again, especially over the past six months. It appears about to do so again with an emerging vision that continues to ignore the needs of the broader community it thinks it can unite. Good intentions are not enough, and Aish does not even seem to have those. It is time for something new.