For Beth Evergreen, 40th anniversary a celebration of tradition, diversity

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By Stephanie DeCamp

Bernie Goldman walked through the doors of the Canyon Courier in 1974 to place a want ad — he was looking for members of the Jewish faith with whom to celebrate the High Holidays. And so, Congregation Beth Evergreen was born.

“I met with him several times,” Rabbi Jamie Arnold said of Goldman, who died last October. “He was friends with the editor of the Courier, and one day was joking with him about there being 19 churches in the church directory of the paper. And he said, ‘You know what the 20th should be? A synagogue.’ ”

So Goldman set about putting the ad together, but it hit the newsstands with a misprint.

“They misprinted Goldman’s phone number,” Arnold said. “And the woman whose number it was apparently was pretty anti-Semitic. And all these people kept calling and saying, ‘I hear you’re starting a Jewish congregation!’ ”

That congregation will celebrate its 40th anniversary from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, said Beth Miller, a Beth Evergreen board member and the chairwoman for the event. Miller said 120 to 150 families will attend.

“To turn 40,” Arnold reflected, “is a coming of age for us, and an opportunity to celebrate how far the congregation has come. And, as a community, how many achievements we’ve had.”

For a group that started as a handful of people in a living room, those achievements have been considerable. After meeting at the United Methodist Church for 20 years, the congregation bought land for a synagogue in 2002. After two years and $2 million, work was completed, and the hunt for a full-time rabbi began. Since Arnold signed on in 2005, the congregation has gone from 130 families to about 200, all from different forms of Judaism.

“We’re more united by geography than ideology,” Arnold said. “As the only synagogue in between Morrison and Vail, we have members who live in a radius of 60 to 80 miles. … So we have a lot of people from different places. There are a lot of interfaith families, more than 50 percent, so it’s not just diversity among Jews but diversity in religious identification altogether.”

The celebration will include a silent auction, a slide show of the congregation’s history, a DJ, live music, a photographer and videographer, and some very special renditions of Pete Seeger songs, including “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

“One of our founding members … used to always sing “Turn! Turn! Turn!” with his guitar at services,” Miller said, “which apparently caught on and was loved by all. We thought that would be a great addition to our program — remembering those special moments that defined the past and bringing them forward to shape the future of our congregation.”

And, of course, members of the congregation — some who were on hand at the congregation’s inception to those from the present day — will all be there to share, sing and dance.

“It’s important to honor the past,” Arnold said. “Not just because it’s our history, but because there are values and benefits to the way things were done early on by necessity, things that I think we can learn and grow from.”

Contact Stephanie DeCamp at Stephanie@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1043. Check CanyonCourier.com for updates and breaking news.