HAR HASHEM HISTORY
Congregation Har HaShem is the oldest continually operating synagogue in Boulder, Colorado. Established in 1965 as the Boulder Jewish Fellowship, the original 35 families met for Shabbat services once or twice a month in each other’s homes. In 1966 they purchased land and began construction of a building (now the North Building Social Hall). In 1967, shortly before the Six Day War, the building was dedicated. The Congregation officially changed its name to Har HaShem (“Mountain of God”). At this time, Har HaShem was still unaffiliated with any of the major Jewish movements.
For several years, members (and, for High Holidays, paid professionals) led services, and in 1977 Har HaShem hired our first full time rabbi, Steven Steinberg, from the Reform Movement. In 1982 Har HaShem affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform Movement, now the Union of Reform Judaism or URJ), and we hired Rabbi Herbert Rose, who served until 1994. When Rabbi H. Rose retired with Emeritus status, we hired Rabbi Deborah Ruth Bronstein, who served us for 20 years, and is still our beloved Rabbi Emerita. In 2007, Rabbi Joshua Rose was hired as assistant rabbi, and in 2010 he became our Senior Rabbi and Rabbi Bronstein continued in her rabbinic role. Rabbi Rose served through June 2014, when he moved to a Conservative Congregation in Portland, OR. Rabbi Mark Glickman served as our Interim Rabbi for one year, beginning in July 2014. In July 2015, Rabbi Fred Greene began his tenure as Senior Rabbi.
Our professional staff also includes our long-serving Katherine Schwartz RJE, our Lifelong Learning Director since 1997, and Holli Berman, our Cantorial Soloist since 1996. Our Executive Director, Gary Fifer, has served us since 2009. Rabbi Ruth Gelfarb has served as Educator and part-time rabbi since 2012. Lisa Webber, our Director of Communications and Membership, was hired in 2014.
In the early 1970s, funded by a generous bequest from a member, we added a classroom wing to our original building. In the '80s, that wing was expanded to include offices, and in 1999 our original sanctuary was converted into our Social Hall when we built a beautiful new sanctuary and several additional classrooms. In 2007 we purchased adjacent land with a former church, as well as two residential properties. The church, now our “South Building,” has also been substantially renovated. The two houses are currently rented, but Rabbi Joshua Rose and his family lived in one of the houses during his tenure here. All of these building acquisitions, expansions and renovation projects (except for the original expansion funded by a bequest) were paid for with funds raised through capital campaigns and a mortgage. We are now about to embark on a new fundraising campaign, “Fit at Fifty,” in anticipation of our 50th anniversary in 2015.
In 1985, members of the Boulder community, including Har HaShem, formed Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry (BASJ), which, over the next 10 years, resettled over 200 Refuseniks in Boulder. Our rabbis were strong leaders in welcoming these families, and for several years after she joined Har HaShem, Rabbi Bronstein led annual Seders and other holiday events to educate the families, many of whom knew Judaism only as a burdensome word on their Internal Passports in the USSR. All these new Americans were given honorary membership in Har HaShem, and many of those who are still in the Boulder area continue to be members.
In the late '90s, we established a "sister Congregation" relationship with Kehilat Sulam Ya'akov, a Progressive synagogue in Zichron Ya'akov, Israel. Since then, Har HaShem members visiting Israel, and KSY members visiting Boulder, have been welcomed into each other's homes, and KSY rabbis have twice visited Har HaShem to teach us and strengthen our ties.We also spearheaded a nationally recognized resettlement program for South Sudanese girls and young women displaced and endangered by the ongoing war in that region. These refugees were known as the “Lost Girls”; their situation was even more precarious than that of the better-known “Lost Boys,” but they were largely unnoticed. For many years, there were more “Lost Girls” in Boulder than in any other city in the United States.
In 2010 we began an ongoing collaboration with Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow, a local nonprofit, through which we serve the homeless community with food and shelter, and provide meaningful and varied volunteer opportunities for our members.
In September 2013, right before Yom Kippur, Boulder experienced a 1,000-year flood after many days of torrential rain, which wreaked havoc on our community and our Congregation. Some members lost their homes or businesses, or suffered thousands of dollars of damage; Har HaShem suffered over $200,000 in damage to our sanctuary, classrooms, and other facilities. Virtually none of these losses were covered by insurance, since neither Har HaShem nor most of our members are in the designated “flood plain.” Even before the rain stopped, our staff and dozens of volunteers, including members of the homeless community we shelter summer and winter, mobilized to pump out water, salvage furniture, books and materials, and stabilize the situation at Har HaShem so that we were able to hold our Yom Kippur family services as usual. (Our larger “adult” services are held in a nearby church, which can accommodate over 1,000 worshippers.) In the succeeding months, volunteers from the Congregation, IsraAid and Neshama, as well as homeless guests who were hired to help, tore down, cleaned and rebuilt the damaged sections of the buildings. All of this was paid for with donations from the Congregation, local and national foundations, and generous friends and other synagogues around the country. To see more about the work done at Har HaShem and in the wider Jewish community, we hope you will visit the YouTube video, prepared by one of our members, about the impact of the flood on the Boulder Jewish community and how we came together to tackle this enormous challenge.
Over the years, Har HaShem has grown from its modest beginnings to be a major institution in the Boulder community and the Colorado Jewish community. Our religious school is one of the largest in the state. We are leaders in Social Action programs. We have expanded our learning programs for youth and families to include multiple entry points for Jewish engagement, including a popular Family School, expanded Sunday options that enable students to experience as well as learn about Judaism, and multiple choices for Hebrew learning. Our youth groups have grown from a small senior youth group to programs for 3rd-12th graders. Our Congregation consistently has among the largest groups attending NFTY-Missouri Valley regional events. Our young people view Har HaShem as their home. We are one of the pilot Congregations of the HUC-JIR/URJ's B'nai Mitzvah Revolution, for which we have received national press in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. A collaborative community-wide teen learning initiative is just now being launched. As our members age, we have more and more second and even third generation members who are committed to keeping Har HaShem strong and thriving. Click here to see our Founders’ video.