Niso Aharonian lives in Denver, which is a long way from where he was born and raised, Herzliya, Israel, and even further away from where his parents came from, which is Iran.
He loves it here, says Aharonian, a soft-spoken and articulate man of 31 who works as a locksmith and limo driver in Denver, to which he moved a decade ago with his wife.
In virtually every respect, he has found Colorado the perfect home for him and his family, which now includes a young daughter, but there was one thing missing for him — a means by which an observant Sephardic Jew like himself could practice his religion.
The observant part was easy. East Denver, where he lives, now has plenty of Orthodox shuls for observant Jews. In the first few years after Aharonian came to Denver, these congregations was where he worshipped.
The Sephardic part wasn’t so easy. There is Ohr Avner, a Sephardic congregation formed by the Bukharan community, but it’s located miles away, in Aurora, an impossible distance for an Orthodox Jew who cannot drive on Shabbos.
And the Sephardic part was important to Aharonian, he says, since that’s how he was raised in Israel, in the Levantine Jewish tradition that his parents brought to Israel from their native Iran, which they left after the Islamic revolution in 1979.
So Aharonian, who seems the sort of man who has no trouble taking the initiative about things he considers important, started his own synagogue.
In the process, he has brought to Denver not only an authentic Sephardic congregation — one in which Jews from the entire Middle East can be religiously and ritually comfortable — but a means of honoring a rabbi, Sephardic like Aharonian, whom Denver Jews came to love and whose life was cut tragically short by a raging wildfire in Israel’s Carmel Forest.