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‘We’re still here’

The premiere of “Kesher: The West Side Jewish Connection” could not have come at a better time. As the Jewish community is reeling from the trauma of the Oct. 7 pogrom in Israel and the explosion of anti-Semitism globally, a feel-good trip down memory lane, combined with a view of our ever-changing but vibrant local Jewish life, was just the tonic the doctor ordered.

‘Kesher: The West Side Jewish Connection’ (Denver Office of Storytelling)

On Nov. 11, the AMC theater at 8th and Albion was filled with camaraderie — but also, at times, a sense of eeriness. When Dr. Jeanne Abrams recounted how many of the Jews who first settled west of the Platte were fleeing pogroms (such as my ancestors), or when Rabbi Mordechai Fleisher talked about Jewish resiliency and survival in the face of adversity, an unspoken acknowledgment swept over the audience: Here we are again.

The film, which premiered as part of this year’s Denver Film Festival and was produced by Denver’s Office of Storytelling, traces West Colfax’s Jewish story through interviews with former and current residents, archival images and drone footage.

This is an intimate retelling. There’s no attempt to present an exhaustive history. Instead, it’s about creating the sense of what the community was — people who grew up together from infancy to adulthood; Jewish institutions like the Alliance and Zera Abraham; classrooms at Cheltenham or Colfax Elementary that emptied out on Jewish holidays.

It was a front porch and street culture, where community was built not only through common culture, but also geography. Grocery stores, pharmacies, schools and synagogues were all within walking distance, and it bred a close-knit community that is still seen today on the West Side itself and among former West Side residents, who are now spread out across the city.

In her introduction, Rowena Alegría, the documentary’s producer, said that part of the Office of Storytelling’s mission is to influence public policy. I hope that “Kesher” will do that, specifically on housing and its connection to community. With all of the new housing on West Colfax being high rises — and high end ones, too — the film conveys the sense of a lost way of connecting. Add to that the high cost of single family homes, and you have one of the main constraints on the Jewish and Hispanic communities being able to grow.

Then again, as Rabbi Fleisher says in the film, the West Side Jewish community has been written off many times, “but we’re still here.”

That phrase stuck with me about “Kesher,” and reiterated in the panel discussion following the screening. Kesher — connection, the idea, central to Judaism, and to Jewish peoplehood, that each and every Jewish person is connected with each other. It’s that kesher — the connection to our communities, to our values and to our faith — that makes us endure.

Even when a certain kesher seems ephemeral, such as the West Colfax “Camelot,” to use interviewee Mordechai Kadovitz’s term, the intimacy of that kesher means it endures, through retellings, artifacts and, most importantly, family and community.

Regardless of whether one lived on the West Side, the reminder that each and every one of us is a link in the chain of our enduring peoplehood was the solace we all needed.

“Kesher” will be released to the public in early 2024. Contact the Office of Storytelling to host a screening.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at [email protected]

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IJN Assistant Publisher | [email protected]

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