4 Questions for Morah Yehudis Fishman

The Boulder JCC tribute to Morah Yehudis Fishman will take place Wednesday, March 13 at 6:30 pm on stage at the Dairy Art Center’s Gordon Gamm Theater prior to the Boulder Jewish Film Festival screening of “93Queen.” Following the screening, there will be a kosher dessert reception featuring a kosher, vegan chocolate mousse bar, and a community concert arranged by Bryan Goldstein. Tickets $25 in advance / $30 at the door. TICKETS: CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, here is our “4 Questions” Interview with Morah Yehudis.

1 – How and why did you come to Boulder, and what keeps you here?

First of all, I like to preface by a quote from the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe that I have oft repeated: ‘Where you go is up to G-d; what you do there is up to you.’ Having said that, I can cite many causes that led me out west after decades of living in Massachusetts.

An underlying reason for leaving the much more Jewishly active world of Boston and the east coast was, when people asked me, What’s in SF or later in Boulder, I had a usual punny type of reply: ‘Watson in SF’ you ask? And I reply, ‘Very nice Holmes.’ When they want a more philosophical explanation, I tell them: ‘I usually feel more comfortable with spiritual ‘seekers’ than I do with ‘Finders.’ So though it seems that Boulder does not have many formally observant Jews, I find that for multiple reasons, Boulder is replete with spiritual seekers. In Jewish terms, they may have had very little exposure to Judaism, or, conversely, they may have ‘run away’ from Jewish fish bowls in bigger communities.

My most straight forward reason for coming to Boulder was a call from the president of a small startup Orthodox minyan called Aish Kodesh. They had been bringing in teachers from various parts of the country and world toward the possibility of selecting a leader. And hearing that Reb Zalman, whom I had known and been in contact with since my youth, lived here was definitely a plus. I had been living in Santa Fe at the time, but the observant Jewish community there was starting to dissipate, just as the one in Boulder was emerging. I came to visit, they liked me and I liked them. They weren’t quite ready at the time for a ‘formal’ rabbi but they wanted someone on site. To make a long story short, a friend from Boston called me asking how everything was going. I said it was fine, but my life got a bit stressful when for example on Shabbat, I had to be both the Rabbi and the Rebbetzin, i.e. prepare both a Dvar Torah and a cholent for the same day.:. After a few years, Aish Kodesh did hire a rabbi, and there wasn’t enough funding for both of us.  

I thought of leaving soon after, but then I got a job teaching at the Boulder Jewish Day School, which I loved, but also shut down after several years. Then I thought of leaving again, but somehow had a conversation with G-d saying that if ‘You want me to stay here, you have to give me a sign’. Well I can’t tell you exactly what the sign was, but people from various congregation, as well as individuals, began asking me me to give classes or private sessions, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Like my calling card at the JCC says, I’m a Free Agent working for G-d.

I do love the more laid back, holistic minded, and naturally beautiful milieu of Boulder. Its environment seems to allow space and openness for Jews to ‘come back’ to Judaism or at least explore at their own pace. As I like to put it, there are many ‘designer Jews’ in Boulder. For me it is both a challenge and a growth opportunity to try and understand and relate to such one of a kind, out of the box, personalities. I believe that the inner Neshama, or as it’s called in Yiddish, ‘the pintele Yid,’ is always seeking a connection with G-d and others in holy ways, even though their journeys may seem rather circuitous. I must say that the new JCC especially is a kind of magnet of attraction for these disparate individuals, who may not have any congregational affiliation. The visitors to the J may not practice formal Judaism, but they often proudly identify with the Jewish community in ways they never did before.

2 – Has Boulder been everything you hoped it would be?

Actually, that would not be possible, because no Jew, including me would be here. Everything I hope, is bound up with the coming of Mashiach, and when that happens, G-d willing, we will all be transported or transformed to Israel. So meanwhile, I bide my time and try my best to enlighten people about what Judaism has to offer them. In terms of the past I really didn’t hope for anything specific except a viable job and a nice community. Well, the community is still nice, though the job and Aish Kodesh are no longer here. Unfortunately, in smaller Jewish communities, a plateau may be reached where the community either grows, leaves for bigger Jewish communities, or phases out, again due to several factors.

Hopefully, there is an upward trend of more active Jewish life, with the presence of the new JCC. For me personally, it serves as a central point for teaching and meetings with all kinds of people and attending films and programs I enjoy. Beyond my individual interests, the J’s existence and centrality of Jewish culture in Boulder feels like a ‘green house’ (which the J also has) for future Jewish life and growth. I am also very grateful for the existence of the Boulder Jewish News for providing a venue, not just for my Torah based articles, but also for such dedicated service for outlets of news and events for the entire Jewish community. It definitely, like the J, is a central magnet for Jewish life and experience in Boulder. The delightful annual Jewish film festival in March, as well as the spring festival on Pearl Street are communal events that I’ve never seen before, even in larger Jewish locations. I also love that Haver, the Boulder Rabbinic Fellowship, shares such cordiality and respect for differences, as well as the ability to come together for significant Jewish experiences on occasions such as Yom Hashoah, Shavuot, and Tu B’Shvat. When you’ve lived in more stratified places, it is wonderful to ‘do Jewish’ in so many varied ways with Jews of all types.

3 – What are your most cherished memories?

1-an Aish Kodesh minyan for Rosh Hashanah in the Masonic Lodge where our chazzan was singing a prayer to a secular tune, and downstairs, the Masonic service happened to be singing their prayers to a Jewish tune. I suggested they cover up the picture of George Washington, but keep the capital ‘G’ visible. 2-Teaching young children both at the BJDS and later at the Bonai Hebrew school, and having them remember me and what I taught them, many years later. 3- People coming to my aid after my almost getting killed in a car collision, and also the assistance I received several years ago after being fooled in a Facebook financial scam. Moreover I received generous assistance from the Jewish Family Service after the Boulder flood. 4- The many people who helped me in the Jewish community for the times I, and my books, had to move and the miracle of being able to stay in my current apartment, when I thought I would have to leave, and had no place to go. 5-Going to Red Rocks to hear Leonard Cohen, Z’L, and thinking how wonderful were his ‘prayerful’ songs. 6- Attending the Shabbat Torah Study class at Har Hashem, and hearing people speak more and more about kabbalah. 7- Experiencing the Boulder Jewish Mikvah, one of the most beautiful in the world, and wishing more Boulder women would be involved. 8-Celebrating my 70th birthday under a sukkah, with the entire Jewish community plus friends from Denver. 9-Celebrating holidays and being able to eat without looking at labels, both at CU Chabad and at the Boulder Center for Judaism. If not for those two organizations, it really would be more challenging for me to remain in Boulder. 10- Being able to tell jokes when I was honored by Aish Kodesh years ago. 11- Having the privilege of spending a summer working on curating the Reb Zalman library at the JCC, and having private sessions there exploring Judaism with interested individuals.

4 – What are your hopes for the future?

Oh, there’s so many. Above all I would love to see another Jewish day school emerge in Boulder. There are so many beautiful, wholesome new young families that I see as part of the various congregations, and as attendees of the JCC’s pre-school, that are practically begging for a source of traditional Jewish education to be in town. Though the afterschool programs are important, they cannot, as the parents of the former day school will attest, replace the continual and daily immersion of a day school, an immersion which insures greater interest and involvement with the Jewish community throughout their lives.   For that matter, I would love to know that each day, somewhere in Boulder there is a least one Torah study session or class going on.  

Another Jewish feature I would like to see, and this was also Reb Zalman’s dream, is for there to be a daily minyan in Boulder. In relation to that, I would like there to be a yahrzeit registry to gather minyanim when people have lost their family or they are commemorating annual yahrzeits. There are many unaffiliated Jews in Boulder who still want to remember their loved ones but don’t connect with any congregations, so this kind of community registry could provide a valuable service for them. On a more material plane, but one that the sages say also has a vital impact on one’s spiritual life, is eating kosher food. So I would love to see a kosher restaurant in Boulder- Israeli, deli, vegan and gluten free….whatever is someone’s passion, I’m sure would upgrade Jewish consciousness, community connection and unity. Finally, in an area that is both material and spiritual, I would love to hear that someone started a free loan Gemach, as it is called- a free loan agency where people could go to, if they needed a loan for something important. Finally in the continued area of public kindness, I would like there to be a trans-denominational healing circle where people could come together and study and pray for those who are ill. I have read there are more and more confirmed studies about the efficacy of such groups. So these are just a few of my ‘small’ dreams for Boulder’s Jewish community.

Bonus: – How do you connect with “93Queen” and Ruchie Frier?

 Well, I only saw the film once and do not know her personally, but still consider her to be an inspiring role model. Aside from feeling honored to be honored at the film festival, I really want everyone, especially Jewish females, to see this film. I recently wrote an article for a Hassidic essay contest about the ‘Role of Women in the March to Mashiach. ‘In my article I posit that the advancement of women in both society and religion, is not a ‘sudden life’ experience. It is not a ‘deus ex machina’ transformation which will be easy and automatic. It is a gradual process, sometimes messy and filled with conflict, but one, imho, is inevitable, as well as compatible with traditional Jewish values. The sages insisted, thousands of years ago, that the generation before Mashiach will be a reincarnation of the generation that left Egypt. At that time the women had superior faith and vision of a better future, both for the Jewish people and the world. The same, I feel, is true of our generation, and films like 93Queen, and even Wonder Woman, can be in the forefront of manifesting this wonder-filled royally majestic and harmonious future for everyone.

About Staff

They call me "NewsHound IV," because I'm a clever Finnegan, sniffing out stories all over the Boulder area. I love Jewish holidays because the food is GREAT, especially the brisket. Well all the food. I was a rescue pup and glad to be on the scent!

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  1. As usual, Morah Yehudis brings us some wonderful insights.

  2. Yehudis, I loved your insights and entertaining history of the Jewish evolution of Jewish life here. What a well deserved honor! Proud to be one of your many friends and admirers!

  3. Mazel tov on all your accomplishments. May Hasem continue to bless the work of your hands.