The huge menorah stationed for over 30 years at Dahlia and Alameda outside the JEWISHcolorado building is not MIA. It’s currently in the backyard of Bais Menachem, safe and sound.
But it won’t return to the aforementioned intersection this Chanukah, which falls on Dec. 23, or any subsequent Festival of Lights.
JEWISHcolorado has decided it will no longer host the annual community menorah lighting festivities that attracted hundreds of people since its inception.
Denverites will now gather at synagogues, Chabad centers, skating rinks, private homes and other locations stretching from downtown to outlying suburbs for Chanukah.
Rabbi Jay Strear, president and CEO of JEWISHcolorado, says positive developments stemming from the cancellation of 2018 observances was the primary factor in its decision.
“We were unable to hold the event due to extensive construction, so we invited Colorado organizations to share the details of their menorah lightings with us,” he says. “We then disseminated that information to the entire Denver community.
“The response was overwhelmingly positive. Many expressed enthusiasm for publicizing all the Chanukah celebrations, as opposed to focusing on a single event attended by fewer and fewer individuals.”
He says that Denver residents were thrilled to learn that menorah lightings were taking place closer to where they lived.
“Instead of holding the major Chanukah lighting at JEWISHcolorado, we will promote all of these celebrations,” Strear says.
“It’s a wonderful way to showcase the efforts of these community organizations and groups.”
The gigantic structure currently occupying Bais Menachem’s backyard is considered one of the tallest kosher menorahs in the world.
It has always been recognized as a Chabad menorah.
Rabbi Yisroel Engel, head of Bais Menachem and Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado, hesitates when asked about what happens next.
“The menorah is with us at this point,” he says. “Temporarily. But it will also be at many other Chabad houses. We’ll have the dates and times soon.”
“A traveling menorah,” he muses. “Have menorah, will travel.”
Barry Karp, a retired contractor and a Chabad devotee, had Woody’s Welding craft the menorah to his specifications in 1986 to honor his daughter’s birth, which he calls miraculous — like Chanukah.
“It took about a week to make the menorah,” Karp says. “We made it on the floor. The workers had no idea what it was! Once finished, it stood in the warehouse. Everyone was in awe of the size of this thing.”
When he asked the men how much money they wanted to be paid, they said they didn’t want anything. “It was built for free,” he says.
That inaugural year, the menorah was erected at the intersection of Champa St. and the 16th St. Mall. It moved to the corner of Curtis St. and the pedestrian mall the following year.
The menorah relocated to the front side of the JEWISHcolorado (then Allied Jewish Federation) building on Dahlia St. in 1988. “We both thought that corner would be a good location.”
The exact number of years that JEWISHcolorado has hosted Jewish Denver’s Chanukah lighting — replete with parents, children, Colorado governors and mayors, rabbis, songs and ruach — is anyone’s guess. No one is sure.
But exactly one week ago, Karp’s workers rigged the menorah to enormous cables, carefully lowered it into a truck bed, drove cautiously to Bais Menachem and put it in back of the building.
Karp says the menorah’s future is uncertain.
“I don’t know how you can move it unless you have a truck and cranes,” he says, referring to Engel’s comment that it will go from place to place. “It’s very, very heavy.
“But it will be lit. That’s a guarantee.”
Doug Seserman, the longtime president of JEWISHcolorado who’s now CEO of American Associates of Ben-Gurion University in New York, fondly recalls his evenings under the menorah.
“One of my favorite memories is when John Hickenlooper came to the menorah lighting,” he says. “This might have been his first year as mayor.
“He wore a Christmas tie, thinking it was a ‘holiday tie.’ But John grew to be a great friend of the Jews and a true friend of Israel.”
On those dark, bone-chilling twilights, Denver Jews huddled far beneath the solitary flame for hours. Yet something always kept them warm.
“To me, it was a wonderful community gathering,” Seserman says. “Kids from the JCC sang along with hundreds of us standing outside with elected leadership — the mayor, the governor, city council members, state legislators.
“It also was a great celebration of the freedom of religion,” he says. “This is a cornerstone value of both the US and Israel, as well as one of the underlying messages of Chanukah.”
Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News