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At Polis inauguration, Halzel, Prizmah save the day

The Prizmah conference meeting in Denver last week became first responders of sorts when Colorado Gov. Jared Polis had an emergency: The Jewish Democrat was about to be sworn in for a second term and he couldn’t find his Tanach, or Hebrew Bible.

Brian Boatright, the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, at right, swears in Gov. Jared Polis, on the left, while Polis’ husband, Marlon Reis, holds a Tanach, Jan. 10, 2023.

It ended well — “when looking for a Tanach, there’s never one too far away,” a Polis spokeswoman said later — but for a while it was fraught. With 30 minutes to swearing-in, people attending the Jan. 10 inauguration for Polis, Colorado’s first Jewish governor, put out frantic calls to Denver’s Jewish community.

David Foster, a politically involved lawyer attending the swearing-in, texted Emily Hyatt, the associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel. Hyatt was lunching with the Cantor Elizabeth Sacks.

It occurred to Hyatt that the Sheraton downtown was packed with Tanach-toting folks just two blocks from the Capitol, where Polis was to be sworn in. She texted Avi Halzel, who heads Denver Jewish Day School and who was attending the annual national conference of Prizmah, a network of Jewish day schools.

Paul Bernstein, the Prizmah CEO, went into process-of-elimination calculations: Who at the conference was present at the hotel over Shabbat? (Those conference-goers were likelier to have the entire Hebrew Bible, which is necessary for Shabbat services, than those who attended only on weekdays.)

“We quietly went around some of the participants who might have a Tanach,” Bernstein said in an interview.

But Halzel realized a more obvious answer lay in the vendor at the Mesorah Publications booth. Halzel secured a Tanach (the Stone edition) from the vendor.

“I figured, what is the fastest way I can get a hold of a Tanach?” Halzel said in an interview. Walking over to the booth, Halzel wondered if he could adequately explain the dilemma to the vendor in time to get the bible to the governor.

“He immediately just smiled at me,” Halzel said. “I mean, it’s the kind of story that’s too crazy to not be true. And so he just turned around, grabbed a Tanach, and handed it to me.

“I dashed to my car, drove to the Capitol building, got clearance from security, and finally delivered the Tanach to a member of the governor’s staff — just seconds before he was sworn into office,” Halzel said.

“I was really happy to help make it possible for the governor to have a Tanach at his inauguration and that thinking about the events of that morning will likely forever put a smile on my face.”

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