DENVER, capital of
, U.S.; also known as the "Mile High City" and "Queen City." Jews began settling in Denver, and elsewhere in Colorado, following the discovery of gold in 1858. While some Jews were afflicted with "gold fever," most saw economic opportunities in servicing those who streamed into the many new mining towns. By 1859, a dozen Jewish immigrants had arrived, originally from Germany and Central Europe; among them, the brothers Hyman and Fred Salomon, Leopold Mayer, and Abraham Jacobs.
In 1860, Denver's first Jewish organization, the Hebrew Burial and Prayer Society, was formed. It soon split into a B'nai B'rith lodge (1872), which is still active, and into Colorado's first synagogue, Temple Emanuel (Reform) (1874), today the State's largest Jewish house of worship. From these earliest efforts, the Jewish community grew in numbers, prosperity, and influence, creating organizations, synagogues, and institutions, many from necessity because of Denver's isolation from other American Jewish population centers.
While Denver's early Jewish settlers identified with Reform Judaism primarily, beginning in the 1880s, some 2.5 million (mostly traditionally religious) Jews emigrated from Eastern Europe to the United States. This migration changed the demographics of Denver. Many Orthodox Jews settled in Denver seeking a cure for tuberculosis, the "white plague." Two Jewish institutions were founded to respond to their needs and other sufferers of consumption from around the country. The National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives was opened in 1899. Its name was changed in 1985 to the
*National Jewish Center for Immunology
and Respiratory Medicine. It is now the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, with a worldwide reputation in the research and treatment of allergy and pulmonary diseases. The Jewish Consumptives Relief Society was established just outside of Denver in 1904 to serve the religious needs of suffering Orthodox Jews. In 1955, it changed its mission to other medical purposes.
In 1882, a farming colony of East European Orthodox Jews was settled by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in Cotopaxi, Colorado. The experiment failed, with the immigrants moving to the West Side of Denver and founding its Orthodox community there. It established synagogues, mikva'ot (ritual baths), Jewish educational institutions, and a Yiddish theater. Descendants of many of the Cotopaxi families still occupy leadership positions in the community. Reform Jews, on the other hand, gravitated to the East Side of Denver, first to the Curtis Park area, then to Capitol Hill and Hilltop, where Temple Emanuel relocated in 1956. Emanuel founded Shwayder Camp in the Colorado Rockies in 1948.
Denver became a temporary haven for Yiddish poets who suffered from tuberculosis. Yehoash was treated from 1900–1910; H. Leivick, from 1932–33 and 1934–35. A legendary figure was Dr. Charles Spivak, long time director of the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society, a major figure in Yiddish and Jewish cultural life, and a founder of the Intermountain Jewish News in 1913. Rabbi Judah Leib Ginsburg, an immigrant from Dvinsk, Latvia, wrote and published major Hebrew works on the Bible and Mishnah in Denver. Max Goldberg became the leading figure in media in mid-20th century Denver. He brought network television to Colorado, pioneered in talk televison, wrote for the Denver Post and published the Intermountain Jewish News.
By the 1970s, when the Jewish population had reached 40,000, many Jews began dispersing to Denver's suburbs, but continued to utilize the many institutions they had established on both sides of the city. Among these were the Hebrew Educational Alliance (1920), Yeshiva Toras Chaim (1967), and Beth Jacob High School for Girls (1968) on the West Side; and, on the East Side, Beth HaMedrosh Hagadol Congregation (1897) and Beth Joseph Congregation (1922), which merged in 1997; Hillel Academy (1951); and Temple Sinai (1967). The Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado was organized as the Allied Jewish Council in 1942; the Jewish Family Service (so named in 1990) dates back to 1887; and Green Gables Country Club (1928) and the Jewish Community Center (1948) provide a social outlet for Denver Jews.
In the latter quarter of the 20th century, Dr. Stanley M. Wagner founded the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver (1975) and its affiliates, the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, Beck Archives and the Holocaust Awareness Institute, and the Mizel Museum (of Judaica, originally) (1982). Shalom Park (1992), a state of the art Jewish nursing home and assisted living facility, was an outgrowth of the Beth Israel Hospital and old age home on the West Side (founded in 1905). The Denver Campus for Jewish Education (2002) merged Herzl Jewish Day School (1975) and the Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy (1979).
Denver became the focus of a widespread controversy in Jewish life in 1983. The Intermountain Jewish News published a 12-page supplement, edited by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg. The supplement reported that the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council, composed of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox rabbis, had discontinued a joint conversion program (established six years earlier). The program processed hundreds of converts, attempting to avoid a schism in the Jewish community. Personal and ideological factors brought its demise. Most Orthodox authorities around the world rejected the halakhic basis of the program despite a ruling from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem supporting it. Some Reform and Conservative Rabbis throughout the country also opposed the idea of having to send converts to an exclusively Orthodox Beth Din. A number of years later, in January 1998, the Ne'eman Commission, established by the Israeli government to create a conversion process acceptable to all wings of Judaism, embraced a variation of the Denver program. Still, attempts to revive it failed.
Among the many persons who figured prominently in Denver Jewish history were
, who came to Denver in 1913, where she met her future husband, Morris Myerson; Sheldon K. Beren, an oilman, philanthropist and national president of Torah Umesorah; and Ruth M. Handler, creator of the Barbie Doll. Notable rabbis were Rabbi William S. Friedman, who served Congregation Emanuel, 1889-1938; Rabbi Charles E. H. Kauvar, who filled the Beth HaMedrosh Hagadol pulpit, 1902-1971; and Rabbi Manuel Laderman at the Hebrew Educational Alliance, 1932–1979. Jews were also active in the political life of the community. Wolfe Londoner became Denver's only Jewish mayor in 1889, Philip Winn became ambassador to Switzerland in 1986, and Larry Mizel and Norman Brownstein are major influences in, respectively, Republican and Democratic politics nationally. Robert Lazar Miller, Jesse Shwayder, A. B. Hirschfeld, and Louis Robinson, and their descendants, have been highly visible in the business community for generations. The "mother of Jewish charity work" was
Francis Wisebart *Jacobs
, whose portrait in a stained glass window graces the Colorado Hall of Fame in the rotunda of the State Capitol.
[Stanley M. Wagner (2nd ed.)]