Until now known only as the “Israeli Minyan,” Denver’s youngest synagogue will celebrate its first anniversary this Shabbat, Aug. 2-3, by naming itself Beit Uriel in memory of Rabbi Uriel Malka, the former DAT teacher who was killed in the Carmel forest fire in Israel in December, 2010.
The one-year anniversary will be marked by a community dinner on Friday night, Shabbat services, and a kiddush following services on Shabbat morning.
Beit Uriel is also celebrating the arrival several weeks ago of its third Torah, lent to it on a semi-permanent basis by the New York Syrian Jewish community.
The shul’s second Torah was lent earlier this summer by the Torah Community Project, whose president is Rabbi Hillel Goldberg. It joined a Torah earlier provided by Denver’s Bukharan Jewish community.
In the short time of its existence Beit Uriel has become Denver’s only mixed Sephardic-Ashkenazi Minyan, with Israeli-style Sephardic services, following the customs of Jerusalem (minhag Yerushalayim), but it is attended by many members of the community who use their own prayer books to pray in the style in which they are comfortable.
Although started as a Sephardic minyan, “the community started coming. Ashkenazi, Chabad, everyone, and we’re loving it,” says Beit Uriel co-founder Abraham Aharonian.
“It’s shaping up to be a minyan for everyone.”
Indeed at one point there was discussion of using the word “achdut” — Hebrew for unity — in the shul’s name, to indicate that Beit Uriel has become the “minyan that unites,” says Aharonian.
In the end, though, it was decided to use only Rabbi Malka’s name because that way “every time someone asks what our shul’s name is all about, telling them the story keeps Rabbi Malka’s memory alive,” explain Aharonian.
Rabbi Malkia’s story is told both on the memorial website set up by the worldwide community he touched, and in numerous news stories about the tragic event in which he lost his life (including the award-winning coverage in the Intermountain Jewish News) and in IJN eulogies.
He was an officer and rabbi in the IDF, served in a paratroopers commando unit, taught in Canada and the US, and was studying to be an Israel Prison Service (IPS) rabbi.
During the Second Lebanon War, he told of how he engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Hezbollah terrorists.
He was on his way to try to save the lives of prisoners in an Israeli jail threatened by the Carmiel fire when the bus he was on was tragically overtaken by that fire.
Rabbi Malka and 35 others were killed.
His last words, sent in a text message, were “I am on my way to rescue Jews.”
Rabbi Malka, 32, at the time of his death, was survived by his wife Ortal and five children.
While he was in Denver, in addition to teaching, Rabbi Malka led a Sephardic minyan on the High Holidays.
Even after leaving Denver he returned each year at the behest of Denver’s Sephardic-Israeli community to lead High Holiday services.
Then the tragic fire occurred, and “we went a year without Rabbi Malka, without a minyan,” says Aharonian.
Finally, a year ago, not long before the High Holidays, the Israeli Minyan was started on a permanent basis, at first meeting downstairs at Bais Menachem.
It now meets in the lower level of 295 S. Locust St. in Denver, hosted by the Western Center for Russian Jewry and Rabbi Aharon Sirota.
The anniversary celebration, including dinner, starts at 7 p.m.
It is open to the community.