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Colorado Springs Jewry’s roots go back to 1861

The old Sons of Abraham synagogue, left, and Original B’nai Israel Synagogue


A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots,” said the civil rights activist, Marcus Garvey. This quote will ring true for historians, anthropologists, politicians, students of history — and Perry B. Bach, researcher and author of the publication Glimpses at Our History: Temple Shalom’s 40-year Anniversary & Colorado Springs Jewish Community 110 Years.

Bach is a long-time resident of Colorado Springs, a retired child and adolescent psychiatrist, a former member of the Temple Shalom board and the steering committee chair of United Jewish Communities in Colorado Springs. 

His love of history, extensive knowledge of Colorado Springs, expertise in Jewish history and deep roots in the Jewish community provided a strong foundation for researching and writing about the Jewish history of Colorado Springs.

Anticipating the 40th anniversary of Temple Shalom in 2011, Perry undertook a challenge to research, document and tell the story of the Jewish community in Colorado Springs. 

He read through existing historical documents, interviewed prominent and long-time members of the community and drew on many sources of information about Jewish roots in Colorado Springs.

 “In the temple attic, I found some cardboard boxes full of fascinating documents about the history of the Jewish community. 

“One of the documents was written by Rose Lorig detailing some events from 1861 to 1900, which really piqued my interest in capturing the history and evolution of our community.”

Building on this foundational research, Bach is currently working on completing Jewish Colorado Springs: 1861-The Present. It is comprised of three parts: a linear history; stories of individuals and families; and the history of Jewish organizations and institutions.

The 1800s: It was the middle of the 19th century and with the exploration of the western US were groups of Jewish pioneers. These early settlers came from the East Coast of the US and Western Europe. Although they apparently were quite aware of being Jewish, they were independent, entrepreneurial and generally did not feel the need for an organized Jewish community.

They frequently sent their children to the East Coast for higher education. Some came here for their health, much like other visitors and new residents. 

Several settled in the town of Colorado City, founded in 1859. Within approximately 10 years, they were active members of the local community as major real estate developers, hoteliers, stagecoach operators, city trustees and cattle ranchers.

These early Jewish settlers were significant contributors to the evolution and development of Colorado City and Colorado Ave. 

Three individuals were especially prominent entrepreneurs. Isaac Cahn, originally from Westhofen, France, arrived in Colorado City in 1860 with his wife and family. He soon owned the land north of Colorado Ave. called “Cahn’s Addition” on old maps. His son, Lazard Cahn, became an internationally known minerologist and the crystal Cahnite was named after him. Today, Isaac and his wife are buried in the Sons of Israel Cemetery in Colorado Springs. 

In 1864, Isaac Myer came to Colorado City and ran a major hotel on the main road from Denver. His son, Charlie Myer, was also successful. He owned all of the land between Pikes Peak Ave. and Tejon Street east to the old Santa Fe Depot until 1876, when he sold it to Gen. William Palmer, who had founded the city of Colorado Springs in 1871.

Another major figure in local history was Louis R. Ehrich. Born in New York, he was proud of the fact that his maternal great-grandfather and great uncle had been highly respected rabbis in Germany. As he later wrote, “In my last year at Yale, I became interested in the idea of reforming the Hebrew Race in the giving up of most of its senseless religious ceremonies and practices. I finally became so filled with enthusiasm on the subject that I decided to enter the Jewish ministry.” 

However, after studying Hebrew and Talmud in Berlin, Ehrich realized that his personal beliefs would not allow him to be a good rabbi. He later developed tuberculosis and moved to Colorado Springs for his health in 1885. 

He became active in the community, helping found the communities of Manitou Springs and Falcon and owning a railway line. 

He was on the boards of such varied institutions as the library, a bank, a mining company and the Mozart Choral Society, and was instrumental in bringing to Colorado Springs one of its main institutions, the Union Printers Home. By donating the land, he convinced the Typographical Union to build its Union Printers Home here. 

Ehrich went on to become a major art dealer with a gallery in New York City. He died in London on a business trip in 1911.

The early 1900s: By 1900, there were enough Jews in the local area to begin developing institutions that are essential to a Jewish community. The first religious services were held in people’s homes, such as a memorial service which was held in 1895, followed by High Holy Day services later that year. In 1900, 21 people donated money to purchase a Torah scoll and the first congregation was organized, the Orthodox Kehilla of Colorado Springs. 

Around the same time, the Hebrew Benevolent Assn., the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society, the Jewish Welfare Board, B’nai Brith and the Hebrew Free Loan Society were established. 

Until 1902, burials had to take place in Denver or Saint Louis. The Sons of Israel Assn. was founded and in early 1903 the Sons of Israel Cemetery was established.

Most of the early Jewish settlers came from Germany, France or other Western European countries. Their religious beliefs tended to be more liberal and progressive, much like other Jewish immigrants to the US of this era. Later immigrants came from Eastern Europe and were much more traditional in their beliefs and religious observances. 

This resulted in an ideological split in the Jewish community that continued for most of the next 70 years. Even when the original immigrants passed away, their children and grandchildren continued to feel strongly about continuing their own families’ traditions. 

However, the communal organizations continued to develop with strong participation by all members of the Jewish community, regardless of their religious philosophy.

Temples and Synagogues in the 1900s: Following pogroms in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, many Orthodox Jews settled in the South Conejos area. They organized the Sons of Abraham congregation and built the first synagogue in 1909. It was located at 404 South Conejos on Fountain Creek. 

After a 1913 flood, the building was moved north four blocks to 111 South Conejos, under the Colorado Ave. viaduct. The Sons of Abraham boasted of having the only mikveh in the region. The congregation continued until 1935, when another flood occurred and they could no longer use the building.

In 1902, following the establishment of the cemetery, the more traditional members of the Sons of Israel expanded the association to provide religious services. It later became affiliated with the Conservative movement. It purchased a building at 417 S. Cascade in 1911, which served as its synagogue until 1951. 

Sons of Israel had several visiting rabbis who came to tutor their children; others stayed for just a few years. When they were flooded out of their building, the Sons of Abraham merged with Sons of Israel. The name changed to B’nai Israel.

In 1951, they built a new synagogue at 1523 E. Monument. 

Meanwhile, the more liberal members in the community formed Temple Beth El in 1904. They started the first religious school in 1911, and hired the first rabbi in 1911. Services were held in the Unitarian Church and later in the Congregational Church. 

There were several attempts at hiring rabbis, including sharing one with the Reform Temple Emanuel in Pueblo, but none lasted very long. Finally, Temple Beth El was revitalized in 1945 and affiliated with the Reform movement. In 1949, it built its first temple at 1702 Pikes Peak Ave.

While the B’nai Abraham structure no longer exists, the original cornerstones are still on the Sons of Israel and Temple Beth El buildings.

Much of this brief history is based on the research and writings of Rose K. Lorig, Adele Obodov, Betty F. Krouse, and Myron I. Myers. Research was conducted and published by Perry B. Bach.

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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