A Torah scroll from Colorado’s oldest synagogue has a new home in Denver

The Torahs of Temple Micah. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)religion; judaism; temple; torah; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite
Ron Rubin, a member of the recently-closed Temple Aaron, holds the Torah that tonight will be transferred to Temple Micah. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) religion; judaism; temple; torah; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite
Ron Rubin, vice president of recently-closed Temple Aaron, holds the Torah that was transferred to Temple Micah. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Part of the work of closing down Temple Aaron, Colorado’s oldest synagogue, is finding new homes for its four Torah scrolls. Torah scrolls are the most valuable objects that a Jewish congregation owns and the most spiritually significant.

One of those scrolls now has a new home at Denver’s Temple Micah.

“We’re so jubilant that we have this opportunity,” said Ron Rubin, vice president of Temple Aaron. “It’s just sitting there in Temple Aaron, and they’re used so infrequently. We do want them to be used and be an integral part of a community.”

The Torahs of Temple Micah. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) religion; judaism; temple; torah; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite
The Torah scrolls of Temple Micah. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Founded in Trinidad in 1889, Temple Aaron was a center of Jewish life in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico for decades, but its membership had dwindled to fewer than 20 people. Unable to afford the upkeep on their historic building, the members made the difficult decision to close in September.

When members of Temple Micah first started talking about buying a scroll from Temple Aaron, the decision to close was looming in the future but not yet final. Micah’s Rabbi Adam Morris said he initially understood the congregation to be trying to raise funds to keep the building open. That wasn’t to be.

Rabbi Adam Morris before temple on a Friday evening. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) religion; judaism; temple; torah; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite
Rabbi Adam Morris before services on a Friday evening. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

For Micah, a growing Reform congregation in Park Hill, a second Torah was a “want, not a need,” Morris said, but it’s very meaningful to have a Torah scroll that connects the congregation to Judaism’s history in Colorado and to the much longer history of the Jewish people.

(Full disclosure: I’m a member of Temple Micah.)

A scribe examined the Torah scroll and estimated it to be about 80 years old and to have come from Russia, based on the style of calligraphy and other characteristics. Most likely, this scroll has a turbulent past, though how it came to Temple Aaron is buried somewhere in boxes and boxes of ancient board meeting minutes, Rubin said.

Temple Aaron parishoner Jack Rouff takes his congregation's Torah around the crowd at Temple Micah on the night when it is transferred into their care. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) religion; judaism; temple; torah; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite
Temple Aaron member Jack Rouff carries his congregation’s Torah around the crowd at Temple Micah on the night when it is transferred into their care. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A Torah scroll is easily the most valuable object that any synagogue owns, and this one is particularly beautiful, with delicate ivory carvings on the ends of the wooden poles that hold the parchment.

But what it represents is even more important.

“It’s the symbol for the mobility, vitality and creativity of the Jewish endeavor,” said Rabbi Adam Morris. “It’s not just the scroll. It’s not just the stories in it. It’s how we engage with it and agree with it and disagree with it and with a sage from the 11th century and a sage from the 13th century and a sage from the 20th century. It’s this trans-temporal dialogue.”

Parishoners point their fingers, or Yats, at the Torah in a ceremony transferring Temple Aaron's Torah to Temple Micah. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) religion; judaism; temple; torah; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite
Members of both congregations form a collective yad by raising their pointer fingers as the Torah that once belonged to Temple Aaron is consecrated to Temple Micah. The yad — which means hand in Hebrew — is a decorative pointer with a little silver hand at the end that is used when reading Torah to avoid touching the parchment. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Members of Temple Aaron traveled to Denver Friday to be present as their Torah was consecrated at Micah.

Of the remaining three scrolls, one is likely to go to a havurah, or independent prayer group, in Alburquerque. The remaining two scrolls may not find a home with a congregation, Rubin said.

Some of the scrolls may be as old as the synagogue or older. They need a lot of repairs to be usable again. One suffered water damage. Those repairs might cost more than the cost of a new scroll, which itself can run $20,000 to $40,000, so it’s been hard to find a congregation willing to take that on. (Torah scrolls are written by hand according to exacting standards and can take a year to complete.)

Parishoners point their fingers, or Yats, at the Torah in a ceremony transferring Temple Aaron's Torah to Temple Micah. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) religion; judaism; temple; torah; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite
Congregants point their fingers at the Torah in a ceremony transferring Temple Aaron’s Torah to Temple Micah. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rubin said they might end up in a museum if they can’t find a synagogue to take them.

“We would much, much rather have them used,” he said.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.