Keeping The Faith at 10,200 Feet
Hebrew Cemetery Clean-up on Sunday
Leadville is known for its cemeteries. People actually come to town specifically to spend time walking or driving thru the Evergreen, Hebrew, and St. Joseph Cemeteries. And why not? Some of Colorado’s most interesting history and characters have found their final resting places right there on the edge of America’s highest city.
So it’s great to report that the Annual Leadville Jewish Cemetery Clean-Up will still be taking place on Sunday, June 28. A group of about 15-20 volunteers from Synagogue of the Summit, are expected at the outdoor event which helps to beautify the Jewish Cemetery located adjacent to the Evergreen Cemetery in Leadville. While the yearly tradition usually includes many social opportunities with members of the Jewish faith traveling from around the state to take part, this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is considered more of a workday, with Sunday’s schedule beginning at 10 a.m. While there will be no BBQ, they’ll be plenty of smiling faces and good fellowship. With those considerations in mind, the public is invited to join the efforts. Volunteers should bring their own water bottles, work gloves, rakes, and hand tools.
Jewish Faithful Keep History Alive
In honor of this Sunday’s Hebrew Cemetery Clean-Up, Leadville Today brings readers the story of Leadville’s Temple Israel Museum and Synagogue. This beautiful building located on the corners of W. 4th and Pine Streets houses a meaningful and moving tribute to this special group of faithful. Their historic contributions to Leadville are many and can be discovered in this Leadville Today video presentation from last summer’s presentation “Jewish Life in Leadville in the 1880s.”
This two-part program presented by Rabbi Ruth Gelfarb and Leadville’s Bill Korn who is President of Temple Israel Foundation provides a rarely seen look into the life of Pioneer Jews in Leadville and their lasting contributions to America’s highest city. Here are those presentations in addition to some current news about the Temple and ongoing efforts at Leadville’s Hebrew Cemetery – enjoy and learn! And thanks to all the volunteers for continuing to honor the rich Jewish heritage still found in Leadville Today!
Part One – “Jewish Life in Leadville in the 1880s.”
Temple Israel: A Testament of Jewish Faith
Anyone who has read about Leadville’s past can recount the hundreds of stories of lawlessness, revelry, and blatant debauchery. It was an old west mining town in the “worst” way, at times. But regardless of its reputation, in the early 1880s, people from all social strata flocked to Leadville in search of their fortunes. Among the town’s approximately 30,000 inhabitants in the 1880s, were 300 Jewish faithful, including David May and the Guggenheims. It was during Leadville’s first “boom” on September 19, 1884, that the Temple Israel was dedicated, during Rosh Hashanah, reflecting the size and strength of Leadville’s Jewish community.
Fast forward 128 years and on September 2012, that same historic building was re-dedicated to those early pioneers. It now stands fully restored as a testament to this unique part of Leadville history. Thanks to efforts from the Temple Israel Foundation under the personal direction and dedication of local resident Bill Korn, the synagogue now adds to Leadville’s reputation as having the most museums per capita than any other city in the United States.
The Temple Israel Synagogue and Museum provides visitors with a view of what life was like for Leadville’s pioneer Jews. Jews were among the early settlers of the upper Arkansas Valley (ca. 1861) and while some worked in the mines, most worked as merchants. Wholesale liquor was an area of commerce that proved to be particularly lucrative. Leadville’s earliest Jewish settlers mainly had roots in Germany, held assimilationist attitudes, and practiced Reform Judaism. Later immigrants were more religiously rigorous.
Part Two – “Jewish Life in Leadville in the 1880s.”
Leadville’s Jewish population declined with the rest of the town when the U.S. silver standard was abandoned in 1893. Today, there are fewer than 100 Jews living in Leadville. While regular services are no longer held in the synagogue, the building houses a small artifact collection that documents the experience of Leadville’s Jewish pioneers. The foundation has cataloged and has on display nearly 150 artifacts. The collection includes objects supporting the historic record that Jews found prosperity as merchants, tradespeople, and even one brothel owner. Those interested in seeing the collection may schedule a tour through the group’s website at www.jewishleadville.org.
But none of these efforts may have ever seen the lights from a Hanukkah menorah after a tragic fire in 2006, nearly brought the building to the ground. An electrical mishap had flames shooting high into the Leadville sky. But like a phoenix from the ashes, the tragedy gave added zeal to the renovation project, which was supported by private contributions and four grants from the Colorado State Historical Fund. The restoration was completed in 2008.
The Temple Israel Foundation’s dedication to preserving and upholding Leadville’s Jewish history does not stop here. While the synagogue is a testament to the life of Jewish pioneers, the Hebrew Cemetery has also been restored to protect and honor the souls resting there. Since taking control of the cemetery grounds, very significant volunteer efforts led by the Denver chapter of B’nai B’rith continue every June (see details above for this year’s plan). They have cleared much of the site from heavy overgrowth, encircled the area with a decorative fence, added an entry arch and monument, all of which culminated in the reconsecration of the cemetery in August 1999. The replacement of missing markers was completed in 2004.
To schedule a tour, reserve the synagogue for special events, make genealogical inquiries call, (303) 709-7050 or (719) 293-1274 or visit their website at www.jewishleadville.org.
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Catholics Continue Mass in Parking Lot
Leadville’s faithful Catholics continue to gather for weekly Masses, celebrated in the parking lot of St. Joseph Church at W. 2nd and James Streets. On May 16 after weeks of both historic Churches – Annunciation and St. Joseph being closed during the Coronavirus pandemic, Holy Family Parish was able to resume services albeit from different kinds of pews – their cars! Since then the Leadville Catholic community has been gathering in the parking lot for weekly services which are as follows.
- Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
- Sunday, 8:45 a.m. in English
- Sunday, Noon 12 p.m. in Spanish
There is no word on when services might resume inside the churches, both of which have undergone extensive historic preservation projects in recent years. However, for many Catholic parishes across the country, the additional restrictions that COVID -19 has put in place have made it challenging and costly to implement the new guidelines and often include an online registration requirement in order to practice their faith within their houses of worship.
With COVID-19 guidelines shifting and changing on a weekly basis, these Leadville Catholics don’t seem to mind their parking lot pews one bit. Of course, those same mountains that are providing a beautiful backdrop from the corner of W. 2nd and James Streets in Leadville Today will be seeing snow in another 12 weeks, or sooner. All faith-filled believers are welcome!
From the Church Bulletin
Father Rafael Rico-Torres, the Pastor at Holy Family Parish sent the following note from the church bulletin for June 28, 2020 which is now being distributed electronically. Contact Kathy Micklich at the Parish office with questions or for sponsorship opportunities. firstname.lastname@example.org.