By Larry Gordon
The United States, as you know, is bigger than the Five Towns and it’s even bigger than all of New York, as difficult as that may be to believe for some of us. There are a lot of interesting things going on out there other than the fact that gas prices for the most part are much lower than they are currently in New York. Though we may think of the world in terms of ourselves and from our individual perspectives, there are a lot of good and fascinating events occurring in other locations around the country.
How I decided to focus on experiences of the Jews in Boulder, Colorado is a long story. Someone here in New York brought events there to my attention, I spoke with some of the people involved in the community, and this is the result.
Rabbi Pesach Scheiner was born and raised in Boro Park. His parents still live in Brooklyn. His father is a yeshiva principal and once his children are old enough, they travel to Crown Heights to receive their education in Chabad schools there. Rabbi Scheiner has been out in Boulder more than 20 years and he and his wife cherish and love the experience. It is frequently lonely, he says, but that is just one of the challenges involved in taking that vital step in becoming an emissary of Chabad out in the hinterland. It is a beautiful piece of America that exists in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. Today, there are 5,000 Jews living in Boulder and Rabbi Scheiner is their spiritual guiding force. They are there and someone has to do it. Fate has determined that this mission belongs to the Scheiner family.
A few days before Yom Kippur, just a few weeks ago, torrential rains arrived in Boulder. “Sure, we sometimes get heavy rains here, but they usually last an hour, hardly ever more than that,” the rabbi says. This time, it just kept raining. The rains would not stop. In a fashion we have unfortunately become familiar with here, with the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy just around the bend, the Chabad shul that is attached to the Scheiner home began to flood. It had additionally become impossible to drive conventional vehicles. That is when the Scheiners’ next-door neighbor ran to their home and urged them to evacuate.
Fortunately the neighbor had a four-wheel-drive SUV and was able to move the Scheiners and their children to safety at the home of one of the neighbors’ relatives. The Scheiners have 11 children, six of whom are attending schools at various locales, both around the country and in Israel. Five of the children are rather young and still live with their parents.
“It was a harrowing and uncertain time,” Pesach Scheiner says. He explains that Rosh Hashanah had filled the shul to capacity in a community where the Jewish population does not necessarily possess fervency about observance. But the High Holy Days are different, even out there in Boulder. Yom Kippur was a few days away and the rabbi was not sure what to do.
On the Monday to Tuesday prior to Yom Kippur it rained almost two inches in and around Boulder. It was a very hot and humid summer, with temperatures hovering around the 90-degree mark as August made way for September. The meteorologists predicted rain, but nothing like what was going to happen next. Over the next few days, it rained steadily, leading to massive flooding that caused roadways to collapse. By the time it was over, it had rained eight additional inches.
“My neighbor, who is a non-Jew, is very friendly, accommodating, and helpful,” Rabbi Scheiner says. And this time he rescued them from flooding that no one had anticipated. The rains and the flooding were the worst in this region, they say, in over 1,000 years and the flood-related damage was the worst in the last 100 years.
The Scheiners’ neighbor, along with many of Chabad’s congregants and friends, began an around-the-clock cleanup job to restore the shul to usable condition in time for Yom Kippur services. The Chabad House has owned a tract of land nearby for years, but they have not been able to build the center they would like to serve the community with because they simply could not put together the funding. To properly serve the community and to build an appropriate Chabad center will take about $1 million.
Being a shaliach–especially out there in Middle America–comes with a host of difficulties. It is hard to get the attention of the American Jewish community for a city like Boulder, which, despite having 5,000 Jews, is really not even on the radar screen of the greater community in the way it needs to be.
In addition to the general Jewish community in Boulder, there are several thousand Jews who attend CU–Colorado University–which is also located in the city. So, all told, including the Jewish campus population, there are about 8,000 Jewish souls in and around Boulder.
Rabbi Pesach Scheiner is a thoughtful and sensitive man who openly discusses the challenges he has faced and continues to face as he performs his life work as an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who charged his followers with the mission of reaching out to every Jew the world over. He talks about the decision to relocate more than two decades ago to Boulder, how there was no palpable representation of authentic Jewishness there, and the struggle to get things started.
So why Boulder? Well, he explains that one of the modern-day decisions one needs to make–amongst the many challenges of sh’lichus–is finding a spot on the map where there is a Jewish population to serve that is not already taken. He says that unless you have a relative who wants to recruit you in his city, a young couple like the Scheiners needs to find a city and make it work, as they have done in Boulder.
The rabbi says that Boulder is not really a tourist town and does not have an influx of Jewish tourists like the ski centers of Aspen and Vail, which are a few hours away by car. He says that he is fortunate to be less than an hour’s drive from Denver, which has a fairly nice Orthodox Jewish community, shops, kosher food, shuls, and so on. What the rabbi is basically saying is that he feels lucky to be able to send his younger children to yeshiva in Denver and to travel there himself when he wants to daven with a minyan during the week.
And that’s just the thing with sh’lichus: when you make the average person or a local family frum, they simply cannot stay local, because the needs of the family cannot be served in a religiously undeveloped community. Sure, some do stay for business or extended family reasons, and that is why Rabbi Scheiner has his core of 20 or so observant families that make up the nucleus of his Shabbos and holiday minyanim.
That’s why, he explains, that it is so deeply meaningful when he hears from Jews outside of Boulder and outside the state of Colorado who appreciate the mesirus nefesh that he, his wife, and children have endured over the last 20 years in order to bring religious Jewish life to Boulder.
“Amongst those to reach out to assist Chabad of Boulder was Rabbi Boruch Bender of Achiezer and Rabbi Yechiel Kalish of Agudath Israel of America. The two got involved as soon as word of the situation hit the news. Along with a great deal of advice, the two also sent immediate financial assistance to use as emergency aid for families that were hit hard. They were extremely helpful and continue to assist us with the experience they collected in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy back east,” Rabbi Scheiner said.
While it is certainly true that the ten inches of rain did a great deal of damage to their Chabad shul, the Scheiners are hoping that the rainstorms that devastated Boulder were a blessing in disguise that will help them realize their lifelong dream of building a state-of-the-art Chabad of Boulder, Colorado. To reach out to the Scheiners, write ChabadOfBoulder@gmail.com. v
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