The grand opening of the new Chabad Jewish Community Center Aspen Valley reflected a tone similar to Colorado itself: warm, natural, friendly and touched by some of the most well-known mountains in America. And so it was fitting that, early in the event, with the backdrop of those iconic Rocky Mountains, Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton presented Chabad Rabbi Mendel Mintz with a flag that once flew over the nation’s capital.

“It was amazing,” said the rabbi, to accept the flag in front of “a full house.” More than 600 people attended the Aug. 7 event.

State representative Millie Hamner then read a proclamation by the Colorado senate congratulating the community center on its achievement.

And achieve it has. Chabad has grown by leaps and bounds since the rabbi and his wife, Lieba, arrived in Aspen in 2000. The $18 million building on the city’s main street is confirmation that Jewish amenities and services are sought in this city of 6,500, with about 400 Jewish residents and tens of thousands of tourists each year.

“I am excited and happy that this building will serve the community,” noted Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron at the gala.

He was followed by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, who declared that it was indeed a special day and thanked all for their involvement in the center’s development—a center that now has its own mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) and a synagogue that seats 300.

The backdrop of the Chabad center is none other than a swath of the Rocky Mountains.
The backdrop of the Chabad center is none other than a swath of the Rocky Mountains.

Dawn Arnall, wife of the late U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Ambassador Roland Arnall, spoke next, saying that the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—wanted action and results, and that the new Jewish center is a reflection of those goals. Moreover, she acknowledged that it exceeded her own expectations.

Chairman and CEO of Steel Partners Warren Lichtenstein publically thanked the rabbi and his wife on this “special and unique day”; and Barbara Hines, wife of Gerald Hines, founder and chairman of the private real estate firm Hines, spoke about the uniqueness of the building and what it represents: a center for all of the Jewish community. She also told of the inspiration the Rebbe had (and still has) on her family.

Master of ceremonies Brad Schlosser, who served as building campaign chair, called up the Mintzes’ eldest child, 13-year-old Toby, to say a few words to the crowd. She described how she and the organization have grown up together, and how exciting it was from the early days up until now, watching the impact of her parents’ reach.

As for Lieba Mintz, in a video that depicts the road to the new building, she acknowledged that “when we came out to Aspen—the most wonderful place—we were young; we really didn’t know exactly what we were doing. We just jumped forward, and now, 14 years later, we finally landed.”

The 18,000-square-foot building on the city's main street reflects the area's natural surroundings, with a rustic-looking exterior.
The 18,000-square-foot building on the city's main street reflects the area's natural surroundings, with a rustic-looking exterior.

The new 18,000-square-foot facility on 435 W. Main St. will provide ample space for the preschool, “Mommy & Me” program, Hebrew school (65 children currently attend), youth/teen center and summer camp, in addition to a ballroom, kosher catering center, multipurpose area, offices, classrooms and more.

‘Everyone Is Welcome’

And while it’s now much bigger, the point people seem to make is that it remains inclusive and warm and welcoming.

Jenny Rosenberg, originally from Chicago, moved to Aspen 10 years ago. She had her daughter, Alex, shortly after arriving, when she said she also “found Lieba Mintz and instantly connected with her.” She became involved with “Mommy & Me,” the women’s group, attended services and celebrated holidays there, and today, her kids go to the Chabad Hebrew school (she also has a 7-year-old son, Asher).

“It’s grounded me … I don’t know if I would have stayed here if not for Lieba and Mendel,” said the 41-year-old. “I feel like Chabad here in Aspen is like my second family. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in your Jewish observance, everyone is welcome.”

As for the grand opening, she noted that people flew in from all over the world to attend.

Even the aron kodesh, or Holy Ark, blends in with a woodsy feel.
Even the aron kodesh, or Holy Ark, blends in with a woodsy feel.

“The center came alive as people flooded into the new building; looks of amazement were on everyone’s faces as they entered it for the first time,” she said. “The interior space is stunning with its clean lines and beautiful artwork. When sitting in the sanctuary, it feels as if you’re floating in the mountains with the panoramic views.

“Getting to this point,” she continued, “was a long journey, but well worth the wait. We have an amazing community here in Aspen that helped make this project a reality. This is a dream that has finally come true.”

Before the food, music and a party that lasted well into the evening, the rabbi announced that “this was the just the start of great things. It’s a start and not an end; the work is just beginning. It’s a day of dedication, and we’ll move on from here.”

He wasn’t kidding. The next day, the Mintzes hosted a community Shabbat dinner, and have lectures and seminars on the calendar leading all the way into September and the High Holidays.

Rabbi Mendel and Leiba Mintz and their children in a photo taken about a year-and-a-half ago. In July, the family welcomed a new baby girl.
Rabbi Mendel and Leiba Mintz and their children in a photo taken about a year-and-a-half ago. In July, the family welcomed a new baby girl.
The facility is for all of Aspen's Jewish community, residents and visitors alike.
The facility is for all of Aspen's Jewish community, residents and visitors alike.