DENVER, COLORADO—Why were a rabbi and his wife serving after-work “love potion cocktails” in the trendy LoHi neighborhood on February 14? “We want to meet people where they are,” answers Ezra Balsam, Aish of the Rockies’ young professionals outreach rabbi. “We welcome anyone who’s Jewish, whether or not they’re practicing.”
The cocktails were part of an elegant – perhaps even romantic – Shabbat dinner featuring French fare, conversation about the Jewish view of love, and each participant’s favorite advice on the topic. Balsam and his wife, Raina, host festive Friday night gatherings for the area’s 20- and 30-somethings at least once each month in the converted loft they affectionately dub “the Shabbat Spot.” Their apartment – comprised mostly of two large rooms that can accommodate a crowd of up to one hundred – was also the site of a sold-out singles mixer on January 25 (in partnership with YAD, a program of JEWISHcolorado), a Friday night dinner with a Tu Bishvat (Jewish Arbor Day) theme on February 7, a shawarma pop-up social on January 29 and several other recent programs.
The Shabbat Spot (ShabbatSpot.org) is a program of Aish of the Rockies (www.aishrockies.org), which has rebranded itself and launched several new initiatives to reach a wide variety of Jews in the Denver area and beyond. As any realtor would say, the location is key: The Shabbat Spot is half a mile from downtown, on the first residential block of its street.
Zev Jacobs, chief operating officer of Aish of the Rockies, describes the decision-making process: “We took a close look at where young professionals are living and what their interests are. We started off near Colfax Avenue and the I-25 and quickly realized that we’re better situated in LoHi.”
“People come straight from work, Balsam adds. “We get a tons of foot traffic. “On Chanukah, we had a big menorah in the window. We could see that a lot of people who were walking past noticed it and pointed.”
Balsam is tuned into the pulse of the people who have chosen Denver as their home, leading off-site activities such as mountain adventures and wall-climbing. The group’s February 9 outing – a full Sunday of skiing and boarding on Copper Mountain – began with bagels and lattes and ended with celebratory beers. “Gear can be thrown on the back of my pickup,” the Facebook invitation reads.
“We’re the same age as the young professionals and have a lot of the same interests,” Raina points out. “Someone told us, ‘You guys are so typical Denver, it’s shocking that you’re Orthodox.’” Perhaps it’s more shocking that they are so typical of Denver: Raina grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, while her husband hails from Los Angeles. The couple met, married, and had their first baby in Israel. They arrived in Denver mere months ago.
“Judaism is relevant to everyone,” Raina says, “including people who love rock-climbing, backpacking, and doing headstands.”
Contact Sari Steinberg