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Virtual Jewish World: Colorado, United States

Colorado, U.S. state. Colorado was still an untamed wilderness when the discovery of gold near Pike's Peak in 1858 brought the area to the nation's attention. By the spring of 1859, fortune seekers began to arrive in droves. During the "big excitement," as the year of the gold discovery was called, at least 12 Jews of German descent migrated to Colorado to join the hunt for freedom, new opportunities, and wealth. Few Jews were miners, but most established small businesses in new towns and mining camps throughout Colorado. The first Rosh Hashanah service was held in Denver in 1859, and as men married and children were born, the fledgling Jewish community began to stabilize. Colorado Jews soon established a burial society, and in 1872 B'nai B'rith was founded in Denver followed by the incorporation of Congregation Emanuel in 1874. Smaller Jewish communities were established in towns around the state such as Leadville, Cripple Creek, Central City, Colorado Springs, Trinidad, Ft. Collins, and Boulder, and synagogues were formed in each of these towns.

Jews became a vital component in the economic, social, and political development of Colorado. Fred Salomon opened the first general mercantile company in Colorado in 1859, David May located the first store of what was to become the May Company chain in Irwin, Colorado, in the 1870s, and in 1910 Jesse Shwayder and his brothers opened a small luggage factory that became one of the largest producers of luggage in America – the Samsonite Corporation. Wolfe Londoner, Denver's Jewish mayor, took office in 1889 and Simon Guggenheim , part of the illustrious family whose fortune was rooted in mining activity in Leadville, Colorado, served as Colorado's only Jewish senator from 1906 to 1912.

By the turn of the century, Colorado had also become a mecca for health-seekers, primarily victims of tuberculosis, and was nicknamed the World's Sanitorium. The Jewish community was the first to step forward with aid for consumptives. Frances Wisebart Jacobs , known as "Colorado's Mother of Charities," spearheaded a movement that resulted in the founding of National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives, largely by German Reform Jews, which opened in 1899. A large percentage of the health-seekers were East European Jews, who flocked to Colorado after 1900 and significantly augmented the state's Jewish population and established Denver's west side Orthodox Jewish community. In 1904, a second Jewish sanitorium, the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society, was founded by East European Jews who wished to provide a more traditional Jewish setting for its patients. Both hospitals gave their services free of charge, served patients from throughout the United States, and were formally nonsectarian, although the vast majority of patients at both sanatoria were Jewish.

From the first, most of Colorado's Jews resided in its capital, the "Queen City" of Denver, although active Jewish congregations still exist in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Ft. Collins, Greeley, and Grand Junction, and newer small congregations have been established in the resort towns of Aspen, Vail, Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge, and Durango. While metro Denver hosts nearly 25 congregations, Boulder now claims five synagogues as well as a growing Jewish day school. Chabad is active in most Colorado communities. A small group of Jews was active in Aspen from its beginnings as a mining town. Hyman Avenue, one of the central thoroughfares in Aspen, is named in honor of Jewish pioneer David Hyman, an early investor. Because of their beautiful mountain locations, both Aspen and the much newer ski town of Vail have been popular sites for many national Jewish conferences and meetings.

A wide array of Jewish religious, cultural, and educational institutions abound. Denver hosts several day schools. Hillel Academy, the oldest of the day schools, was organized in 1953 as an Orthodox elementary school; Herzl Day School is described as a community Jewish day school; the Denver Academy of Torah is a Modern Orthodox elementary school. On the high school level, Yeshiva Toras Chaim is an Orthodox yeshivah high school for young men with a talmudic college-level religious studies program as well, and Beth Jacob High School serves young Jewish women. The Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy (RMHA) is a co-ed private Jewish day school for secondary school students. In the late 1990s, Herzl and RMHA combined forces to open the new Denver Campus for Jewish Education. The Central Agency for Jewish Education serves as a coordinating agency for a number of Jewish educational programs in the area, and the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver provides a variety of courses in Jewish studies for college students as well as housing the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society and Beck Archives, and the Holocaust Awareness Institute. The Hillel Council of Colorado sponsors Hillel branches for Jewish students at the University of Colorado at Boulder, CU – Denver, Colorado State University, and the University of Denver.

Today, Colorado also hosts many charitable and social service organizations, some with a long history such as the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, B'nai B'rith, Hadassah, the National Council of Jewish Women, the American Jewish Committee, The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Family Service, and Shalom Park, an award-winning continuum retirement complex and nursing home. The last formal population survey conducted in 1998 estimated the Jewish population of the state as approximately 63,000, and in 2004, informal estimates placed the Denver-Boulder population alone at between 65,000 and 70,000.

Due to rising maintenence and insurance costs, Colorado's oldest standing Synagogue closed during 2016. Temple Aaron's congregation, whose members came from Denver, Trinidad, Colorado Springs, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, was founded in 1883, and the Synagogue was built in 1889.

As of 2017, Colorado's Jewish population was approximately 102,600.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.