When Belle Marcus heard that the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, founded in 1976, was looking for a director, her life shifted gears. Something inside her — that perennial hunger for Jewish learning, a fascination for everything Jewish — told her to go for it.
The first thing she did was take an archives course at DU. Six weeks later, Belle was working part time at RMJHS, writing letters to organizations and individuals from old Jewish families.
Belle, who was hired as RMJHS’ director in 1977, faced a huge task — assembling letters, data and photographs of early Jewish Colorado from a variety of untapped sources. “I am constantly in a state of thrill,” she told the IJN, Jan. 24, 1980, in the Very Important Women special section. “Everything that is coming to light is coming to light for the first time.”
No matter how chaotic the day, Belle never glanced at her watch. She adored her husband Jack and their children Debra and Ron. They always came first. Yet her desire to amass clues about Colorado’s Jewish community, whether in documents or animated interviews with Cripple Creek old-timers, was unquenchable.
After reading a letter written by Dr. John Elsner detailing a wild stagecoach ride he took from Denver to Santa Fe to perform a circumcision on a Jewish baby, Belle had an epiphany.
“It was so much trouble to bring your child up Jewish,” she told the IJN. “To have your child circumcised was an enormous expense. All of them had to work so terribly, terribly hard to remain Jewish.”
Maintaining Jewish identity in the Wild West was like building a cabin in a blizzard with bare hands. “Kosher meat arrived by train, often spoiled. The closest rabbi was 1,500 miles away.” Their determination filled her with awe and wonder. “It’s so easy for so many of us to throw it away,” she said. “This is the most poignant part of my job.”
Belle retired from the RMJHS in 1982 and moved to Pompano Beach, Fla. She and Jack walked to their cabana in front of their beachside condo and marveled at the Atlantic Ocean every day. Belle developed dementia in her later years, and her personality gradually evaporated. To resurrect her gaiety, dedication and sparkle, the IJN staff turned to its own archival resources — interviews with Belle preserved in annual bound copies of this paper. Belle smiles from the pages; her words dance.
Belle Marcus died on Dec. 18, 2018. Her family will always remember her. And the Jewish community of Colorado will never forget her.
Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News