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Boulder Colorado has my almost ideal Jewish community

The first time I came through it, I fell in love with Boulder, Colorado. My buddy Berel and I had been on a two week backpacking and mountain biking trip in Montana and on our way home he decided we should go meet his friend from Israel. Had I known at the time of the vibrant, albeit small, Jewish community, I may have stayed longer. Either way, I was impressed. The main street of downtown Boulder is one of those red bricked closed to car affairs, teeming with people, musicians performing on every corner, children playing in the many playgrounds located in the middle of the thoroughfare and lots of neat stores. Though some chain stores like Urban Outfitters, Starbucks and Ben and Jerry’s have crept in, there are mostly arty type affairs, outdoor gear shops and really yummy looking treife restaurants.

Boulder is literally on the foot of the Rockies — the main streets all end right at the mountains with several snaking their way up to towns located thousands of feet higher than Boulders already impressive 6,000 foot elevation (unimpressive for Coloradans, of course) The second I found out there were frum Jews in Boulder, I like to think that I convinced my brother to move there. Really he convinced himself after he visited, hung out with the Jews and realized you could rock climb some great crags without ever hopping in your car.

Boulder Colorado has 3 orthodox shuls, a mikvah, an eruv, day school, kosher bakery and a small JCC. Did you know that 10% of Boulder’s population is Jewish? No, they aren’t frum, but it’s only time before someone other than chabad (currently, there are two of them) figures it out and tries to add to the community. Unlike many similar sized communities, Boulder is not rife with communal politics. Everyone gets along, shares in simchas, attends each other’s shuls and all the rabbis of the city meet regularly to talk about stuff. Of course this may be because Boulder is super friendly and everyone generally tries to get along, down to the homeless people. Even they are cool in Boulder.

Boulder is also the birthplace of Renewal Judaism – which is probably heresy, but people in Boulder absolutely love Rav Zalman Shechter who sometimes pops his head into Aish Kodesh the other non-chabad affiliated shul. All I can tell you about Renewal is that based on the “minyan” I walked in on at Isabella Freedman Center, I simply didn’t like it – not one bit. In fact, it actually drove me mad and I wanted to jump up and tell everyone that they were full of shit. But firmly in my role as an observer of people in their natural habitat, to gather ammunition to mock them with later, I sat still and let everyone do their thing. I have heard several people say that Rav Zalman may be one of the only real Apikorsim alive today, since he was one of the prize students of the Frediker Rebbe (previous chabad Rebbe) but no one has actually verified that he is smart enough to be considered a heretic. Rav Zalman also teaches at Naropa University which is home to a large population of Jews – rumored to be as high as 40%. Naropa is a Buddhist university that seems to only have courses devoted to some sort of therapy.

The campus of Colorado University is located in Boulder as well. C.U. gives the city a distinct college town feel since it seems that everyone in town is in super good shape and everyone is a cyclist. My friend who is a Beriatric Surgeon said he would love to live in Boulder, but there aren’t any fat people and he would go broke. The Chabad-on-campus guy is awesome. I have found that in order to be a chabad on campus guy you have to have this somewhat modern flare, any old chabad shaliach just wont do. This particular C-O-C, Rabbi Ysiroel Wilhelm, is a rocking guy and it doesn’t hurt that he has loads of stuff to tell me to write about every time I see him.

There is no regular old shul in Boulder and this may be one of the reasons anyone moving to Colorado would probably choose Denver located 35 minutes drive to the south over Boulder. Still, the non-chabad shul is an interesting place. The Rabbi is Bresslov and very into Chassidic practice, in the traditional way, not the current in my view bastardization of Chassidism. This means lots of stories, lots of singing and dancing but women who wander into shul wearing pants aren’t going to be bleached and he doesn’t believe in banning concerts or forcing anyone to do anything they don’t want to. Boulder is quite the liberal place and I overheard a bunch of people in shul talking about how wrong it was to separate the women. The mechitza is over regulation; you cannot see the women at all, although during speeches it is fully opened.

Asking a question like “how many frum people live in Boulder?” is especially difficult. I was in shul this morning and the crowd was pretty large for Aish Kodesh at maybe 35 people so the Rabbi decided to make a separate mi-shebarach for Jews and non-Jews. I have been in the shul with 14 men present and there was no minyan. As expected there are many intermarriages, even at lunch today I ate with a couple, where the mom was obviously not Jewish.

So how many frum people are there in Boulder? I would say, maybe 10 families, but that number is incomplete. I am sure that there are many Jews who are flexidox or knowledgeable but not practicing and everything else under the sun. In fact this past Friday night I ate by a young couple that picked Boulder for it’s outdoor community, they are both yeshiva educated and from frum families, but they love the outdoors and liked the small community. They had quite a number of guests, including 3 who were ex-black hat yeshiva guys, while they attend non-orthodox shuls, they still will make appearances at the orthodox shul, as well. This is greatly contrasted in most larger communities. It seems in Boulder, people are less judgmental and more real.

If Missoula, Montana had any orthodox Jews that would be my choice place to live and raise a family. Since it does not, Boulder, it is. Boulder is not the least inexpensive place to live but by New York standards, it is more than affordable. A one bedroom can be had for $600 a month and you don’t need a car to live there. In fact, I don’t know of any other place that has a frum community that you can ski, mountain bike, backpack, kayak and gain entry into thousands of square miles of wilderness without a car. Really, just doesn’t exist. With Denver and it’s larger community and kosher restaurants and yeshivas only a 35 minute drive away, I cant help but wonder why Boulder isn’t home to some sort of Outdoor Nut Kollel or yeshiva for off the derech kids to explore the outdoors or whatever.

I was standing outside of shul today at Kiddush. Sidebar: the Kiddush was really aesthetically pleasing but is one that can clearly never be considered heimishe. Fresh homemade guacamole, humus, smoked pepper salad, raw carrots, broccoli and of course the Gluten free products that everyone in Boulder seems to be so hung up on (first it was carbs now its gluten – what will someone attack next?) and all of the cups, plates, napkins and cutlery were made of corn and compost-able. The Campus Chabad Rabbi (who it seems was there because the semester was over) with his peyos fluttering in the wind,Rabbi Silber of the Drisha Institute there for a visit, along with a woman wearing a large yarmulke, men with all types of clothing and yarmulkes, some men in suits, others in jeans and me in my corduroys – the women wearing everything under the sun all contributed to the odd scene. But what topped it off was the fact that not one person (even I held myself in check, though it made me insane!) knocked anyone down when Kiddush commenced.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • YY

    Boulder sounds awesome; I really want to check out it. I’m looking forward to a post about the Renewal people. I find it interesting that they drove you mad while you seemed to enjoy the Reform “minyan” you attended a while back.

    Hmmm….maybe *you’ll* be the one to found the Outdoor Nut Kollel or whatever!

  • I’ve been thinking about Boulder for years – I made email contact with Rabbi Goldfelder back in ’04, but the opportunity to check it out never came up. But you’ve awoken my interest again – it does sound awesome. And I like apikorsim – they’re my favorite people!

  • Why am I always a freaking out gear in the picture next to my comments on Frum Satire?

    • It’s an automatically generated avatar – I cannot control it but I figured it was way cooler than the blank space.

  • ex

    . You may categorize them as “off the derech”, but I hesitate to because they are not angry

    Can you explain that comment?

  • Thanks, Heshy, for your posting.

    About Jewish Renewal, I figure there might be much free-form activity going on at many of their centers. I very much like the one I attend in Bethesda/Bealsville, Maryland. Its rabbi, David Shneyer, is an accomplished klezmer musician, and very socially conscious. Services there tend to have many elements of.a Conservative service, including the songs, while making the activities meaningful and joyous.

    Jewish Renewal treats women and men in a fully egalitarian way, and fully welcomes intermarried (and unmarried) couples and gay people. This is important to me both based on my opinions and based on my wife not being Jewish.

    Here are a few books to give some great insight on Zalman and Jewish Renewal-

    – “Jewish With Feeling”, by Zalman.

    – “The Jew in the Lotus”, by Rodger Kamenetz, which includes discussion about why so many Jews — like I — like Buddhism, too.

    – “Chasing Elijah”, by Kamanetz.

    i have davenned many times at my hometown’s modern Orthodox synagogue, where my great grandparents, grandfather and clan davenned. I very much enjoyed it, except for the gender-based roles and the approach to intermarried people.

    As to Boulder, I enjoy the place very much, too. Was the Zipcode man performing outside when you went?

    Take care, Jon

  • Connect

    Connect to Jewish Boulder:

    boulderjewishnews.org boulderaishkodesh.org
    boulderjcc.org boulderjews.org

  • Ilana

    I’m into Renewal stuff; I definitely want to move to Boulder someday. Reb Zalman is amazing.

  • CYL

    Zalman Shechter is quoted in the old prints of chabad seforim as one of the editors

  • FrumGer

    boulder, wow that sounds great, i have been saying for years i want to get like a group of yids together, enough for a daily minyan and just move to alaska, not anchorage or anthing but like in the woods alaska. i hate too much government and love living in small towns, would love to live off the land (mostly) but you cant be jew on an island to yourself, so i am stuck in city life… any other ideas would be great..

  • moshiach yavo

    i hear that about the whole renewal thing, it bugs me out more than any of form, to me it seems like garbage, zalman shacter just tripped out on acid to many times and lost his marbles. funny this came up i was wondering if there is in fact a frum community in boulder and came across the aish kodesh website

  • Frum satire, as you know throughout your blogs you offend many im sure sometimes inadvertantly and sometimes not as much. Im left wondering why when OTD was angry at being called angry you deleted that line from the post. Are you more reluctant to upset “off the derech “types? is he a friend that you didnt want to upset?
    Thanks

    • Actually the line made no sense, I had written this thing a long time ago – and when I noticed that I was like “hey why did I write that?” He is not a friend, just a fellow blogger – I edit stuff out all of the time – you just don’t notice it.

      On average I delete several posts per month.

  • Froma

    For those who would like to check out an egalitarian service that feels Orthodox (very Carlbachian, of course- this is Boulder), come over to Bonai Shalom, Boulder’s Conservative synagogue. Disclaimer: I work there but for a formerly Orthodox person who got tired of separate and unequal, this service feels right.

  • Former Boulder Jew

    Boulder is Better! In the mid 60’s, through the early 80’s there was a Hillel Rabbi at CU who served the Jewish college kids with distinction. The family was orthodox and he sent his kids to Hillel Academy in Denver. There was a minyan in the Hillel House every Shabbos and Yom Tov. After Davening the students were invited over to the rabbi’s house (next door) for kiddush and lively discussions. His family was basically the only orthodox presence in town, with the exception of whom he left in his wake.

    It is mind boggling to think that now there are 3 “orthodox” shuls in town. In those days, Chabad came to town once or twice a year, something akin to the travelling preacher that came out west in the old days (you can read all about them in the Great Brain series).

    Believe it or not, Boulder has more sunshine hours per year then Florida! There is no humidity (as they are at least 1000 miles from the nearest ocean) hence 90 degrees feels like 70. The awesome flatirons that jut out above Boulder are breathtaking (beautiful picture above).

  • correction

    Boulder, Colorado is 5430 feet above sea level. Boulder, Utah is at the 6000-8000 level.

  • David Ilan

    Last summer I had the good fortune to spend a shabbat with the Boulder Jewish Community, when I went backpacking in the Rockies. I spent Shabbat with the folks at Aish Kodesh, they put me up I had all my meals taken care of and they made me feel like part of the community.
    I can truly say it was the nicest Shabbat I had had in years.

  • John

    Please don’t come to Boulder. It is a beautiful town and we want to keep it that way. Stay away.

  • linda hirschel

    I also grew up in Boulder. I was born in Boulder Memorial Hospital 52 years ago yesterday. Boulder is gorgeous–my father still lives there. Now I am a frum Jew with seven children living in Israel. It makes me sad that there are so many Jews in Boulder (also when I was growing up–professors, scientisits,etc.) and hardly any of them know about True Torah. There is Hashem and and our ultimate job in this world is to work and enjoy Hashem! But He made us so He knows how we are supposed to do this: He made the car, and the instructions are the Torah. I think people don’t give True Torah a chance; they are open about all kinds stuff but not their own heritage. I know, because I know Bouder very well. It’s beautiful with beautiful people!

    • ymw

      i come from boulder .i lved there from 1967-1982 iam frum and live in brooklyn with my family. ymw456@gmail.com

  • Steven M. Mihaylo

    Not to offend anyone, but I still have not heard a complete definition of being “Jewish.” The people at the Chabad center told me that it means you where born from a Jewish Mother. If that is your definition then Abraham and Sarah could not be considered “Jewish,” since they where both born from a Chaldean mother. Also it would mean that they could not have born any Jewish person since they where not Jewish but a seperated Chaldean.
    No modern scientist believes in race anymore, so what does it mean to be “Jewish?” I think a more inclusive heart would only help all people learn the Hebrew religious and mystical tradition and help promote peace amongst different cultures.

    • Elliot

      Hi Steven,
      Jewish people are both an ethnic group and religion. A proselyte can become Jewish without being born of a Jewish woman. Many if not most religions seem to take a great deal from the source of monotheism. I was recently surprised to find that many Arabic words are rooted in Hebrew and most Muslim traditions are based Judaism (though some severely distorted). Judaism is one of the rare religions that not only don’t proselytize but discourage all but the very serious from joining. Never-the-less, because of the disbursement of it’s people and the vicissitudes they encountered over the many years, there are many people who are Jewish but don’t know it. You can find a great deal about Judaism on the web but you need to make sure it’s authentic.

  • Elliot

    Hi Heshy,
    It’s been three and a half years since your post. Any new thoughts?
    I moved to Jacksonville FL from NYC 5 years ago but spend most of the year traveling (mainly in Asia). While Jacksonville offers a nice Jewish community, private living area with lots of grass, a pond and no City or State income tax…I feel that I’m missing something. Both I and a friend who visited Boulder a few years ago were very impressed. The people seem to be a throwback to the days of brotherly love even though some are esoteric. The mountains, open spaces, sophisticated individuals and artistic creativity are exciting. Kashrus is not that big of an issue for me because I am a vegetarian but it’s nice to know that Boulder and especially Denver, a short drive away, offer many culinary opportunities. In Jacksonville, my 3 bedroom rented private home at the end of a cul-de-sac with vaulted ceilings, jacuzzi, fireplace and a large pond has cost me under $1000 per month. In contrast, look at the rental prices in Boulder http://www.zillow.com/boulder-co/rent-houses/ Since I’m only in the US a quarter of the year, perhaps I should just visit Boulder.

    • Cindy Falor

      Did you find what you are looking for here in Jacksonville?

  • Nathaniel

    Boulder is becoming increasingly rightwing, as is the state as a whole. Denver has always been a subtle undercurrent of Anti-Semitism, along with Boulder. As an intellectual exercise research the history of Colorado politics and the KKK.
    I was extremely anxious to return to Chicago completing graduate school at DU. Scenic, but the subtle bigotry is very unsavory in what is still a Cowboy state!.

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  • I once dated a Jewish girl in college who was from Boulder. Mostly reform Jews there. I’m new to your blog and I must say you are the SEO expert because all I had to do in google was type “off the derech” and I found you. I was raised in a traditional conservative upbringing. I went to a Jewish day school from 1st to 6th grade and then went to public school.(public school will definitely make you go off the derech) I hate how some of these Jewish dayschools have such high admission standards that I couldn’t attend because I was not smart enough. My dad was one of those Jews who would always wear his yalmulke in the most inappropriate places and times. For example, driving his car on Shabbos and eating dairy in non kosher restaurants while wearing a yarlmulke. I was always embarassed by this growing up because I know he did it more for political reasons. Anyway, I myself have went off the derech in college and I still am struggling. I have no intellectual, nor philisophical issues with Judaism, I’m just freakn lazy and not disciplined. My father would take me to a different schul every shabbat from reform, to conservative, to sephardic to orthodox, so I have a pretty good exposure to all different Jewish affiliations. Even though I decided to become a bacon eater secretly at age 12, I will always agree with and almost always rather be part of Orthodox Judaism. Why, because I hate how Americans have watered down Judaism and changed Halacha or completely did a way with it. The kiruv sucks from conservative and reform communities. Jews that did not grow up observant who are trying to rediscover their Jewish identity crave authentic Judaism. I am all for Halacha, it’s there, you can follow it or you may choose not to follow it, but it should never ever change. Its up to the individual to follow or not, but not change to suit your personal needs. Conservative and reform Judaism has failed in their kiruv. All I remember post bar-mitzvah classes was all the Holocaust movies and anti-semetism documentaries that were shoved down our throats. There was no real Jewish education. The message was “you should be proud to be Jewish because the rest of the world hates you”. There is no truth any more. Jews who do not come from observant upbringings want structure and real community and a strong spiritual component to this. I feel reform and conservative Judaism water down the the G-d stuff and focus more on cultural and zionist aspects. WHERE IS GOD in all of this???? Sometimes I wished the Rabbi could give his dvar torah as a Black preacher in a church. Yell, scream and bring the fear of God to me. Tell me, that if I eat bacon I may not have a part of olam haba. And yes, there is a place called Hell or geheinum. Heaven and hell is not just a Christian concept but is also in Judaism as well. It’s okay to say that abortion and homosexuality is a big no no. Did you know “tuchus schtooping” is a sin. It’s okay to say it people, don’t be afraid fellow liberal Jews. Tell me that premarital sex is a no no, I may not follow that but at least I know the truth. Tell me that a married couple should have twin beds like a 50’s black and white sitcom. (the average non orthdox Jew does not even know about Taharat Mishpacha). Laws of family purity is such an important part of Judaism. Tell me a woman is impure during that time of the month. I am a shameful bacon eating Jew who wishes he could make it to schul on shabbos mornings but always ends up sleeping late. This means I know what God demands from me, and I don’t disagree, I fully agree, but choose to be lazy and fall into temptation. Conservative, reform and unaffiliated Jews need the Orthdox Jews. The 613 Mitzvos are was has sustained us a a people. Ask the typical Reform or conservative Jew what a Mitzvah is and they will say “a good deed”. Bullshit, its a commandment. Yes, God commands us. God forbid a conservative or reform rabbi should ever say “God commands us”. In conclusion, all you off the derech Ortho’s, get your act together and help educate and inspire the non-ortho Jews. You are our role model. Our conservative and reform communities will never give us the type of ruach that you have in your communities. If you go off the derech, do it because you are curious and want to learn more about the goyim, and don’t do it because you didn’t agree with your Rebbe or Tati’s strict rules. We need you orthos, and we need you badly. God bless. I want to hear the word “satan”, not yetzer hara. “satan” is our word, let’s take it back from the goyim and use it more in our vocabulary.

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