Whose name — other than Mom’s and Dad’s — has been in more Denver-area Bar and Bat Mitzvah speeches than any other?
Hands down: Ardie Wandel.
Boys and girls and even adults make it a point to publicly thank the person who patiently, persistently and authoritatively nurtured the skills and confidence to shine on their special day.
So began a story on Ardie Wandel’s 50 years as a Jewish educator in the IJN’s L’Chaim® Magazine 10 years ago. At that time, Wandel estimated that he had educated some 4,200 Jewish children and adults since 1960. That’s when the late Rabbi Samuel Adelman offered Wandel, age 17, his first position teaching fourth and fifth graders at the old BMH on 16th and Gaylord. From there, the rabbi recommended Wandel as a Bar Mitzvah tutor, launching a career that spanned nearly six decades and touched thousands of Jewish teens and their families on one of the most important days of their lives.
The wise Rabbi Adelman saw in young Ardie Wandel not only the Hebrew, davening and Torah reading skills, but personality, calm and dedication. They made Wandel the single most sought-after Bar-Bat Mitzvah tutor in Denver Jewish history. Families from BMH, Beth Joseph, Temple Emanuel, HEA and Temple Sinai clamored for this phenomenal teacher. Wandel also worked with children in isolated communities throughout the Rocky Mountain West, in person, via telephone and then teleconferencing.
Wandel also exhibited his kindness and skill in enabling special needs students, including those who were blind, deaf or had Down syndrome, to achieve the rite of passage of becoming an adult Jew.
Wandel not only taught his students synagogue skills, but he role modeled middot, or positive personality traits: good manners, patience, humility and good cheer. He imbued his students with the confidence to deliver, even when they thought they couldn’t possibly do it.
Ardie Wandel’s Jewish contribution focused not only on the youth. He served two non-consecutive terms as president of what became BMH-BJ, courageously leading during the merger of the two East Side congregations. He did so with sensitivity for those who resisted the change, and with confidence that it was the right move at the right time.
Wandel was forced to slow down after he suffered a major health setback few years ago. He was determined to recover to the point that he resumed tutoring, although he was frustrated that it didn’t come as readily as it once did.
That Wandel was able to restart teaching after a major setback speaks to his dogged dedication and love. His words: “A Bar or Bat Mitzvah is always in the process of becoming a Jew.”
It is very difficult to imagine this community without Ardie Wandel, all the more so for his mother, wife, children and countless admirers. May we all comfort each other.
Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News