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Supporting Israel, Supporting Each Other

To support Israel during this time, we encourage donations to:

JEWISHcoloradoThrough the generosity of donors, a matching gift of up to $650,000 has been established for the Israel Emergency Fund.
When making a gift please select this fund in the designation dropdown menu.

American Friends of Magen David AdomYour donation ensures Magen David Adom's 33,000 paramedics, EMTs, first responders, and first-aid providers -- volunteers and staff -- have the training, equipment, and medical supplies they need to treat all injured and ill people in Israel.


Messages from our Rabbis:

Wednesday, November 1, 2023
Dear Aspen Jewish Congregation community,

As the war in Israel is now in its fourth week, we are still focused on how we can support each other in this difficult time. This week and next we have opportunities to gather, both in-person and virtually. Please read to the end of this email for a note from Rabbi Shira.

For parents of teens: Aspen Jewish Congregation, in partnership with the American Jewish Committee and Aspen Chabad, is hosting two events at which 7-12th graders (and their parents) will be encouraged to ask all their questions about Israel and antisemitism and will gain resources for future use. The first event is TONIGHT, November 1, 5:30-7:00 PM, and the second will be over the course of the day on Sunday December 3. RSVP here.

Weekday morning prayer services: Join us on Thursday, November 2 at 8:30 AM MT in the Aspen Chapel gallery for an in-person, lay-led prayer service, a place where people can come together to pray, mourn, and be in community. No experience necessary. If you would like to join via Zoom, RSVP by replying to this email. We will send a link.

Grief group: On Thursday, November 2 at 10:30 AM MT in the Aspen Chapel gallery Rabbi Sima, together with two therapists from Mind Springs, will lead a conversation on fear and grieving in this difficult moment. RSVP by responding to this email.

Listening Circle: On Monday November 6, from 10-11 AM MT, Rabbi Elyse Seidner-Joseph will facilitate a Listening Circle via Zoom that is open to everyone in the AJC community. The Listening Circle is a space to share your worries and concerns that have arisen in these past few weeks. Everyone who would like to will have the opportunity to speak from their heart, and to listen as others speak. We will witness each other in active listening—no fixing, no cross talk, or comments on what anyone else says. This should be a time for giving voice to our worries and feelings, practicing compassionate listening to others as well. RSVP by replying to this email. We will send a link.

A Note from Rabbi Shira:

Yesterday was a cloudy day in Washington, DC, where I live. For those of you who spend most of your time in the Roaring Fork Valley, where it is sunny almost 300 days a year, let me explain: a cloudy day affects the emotions. This is not just me talking; it’s been proven by science. Literal cloudiness makes our spirits metaphorically cloudy. We cannot see others as clearly as we would like. There is sadness in the air. 

Or maybe that’s just how I am feeling, almost a month into the war. Like I cannot see where I–where we–are going. My beloveds are far away, literally and metaphorically. What was perfectly clear on October 1 is now mired in fog. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, our forefather Abraham too has to contend with the discombobulating and lonely feeling of being separated from his beloved; in this case, however, it is not humans but instead God from Whom Abraham is separate. At the beginning of the portion, God lets Abraham in on a secret: people are terrible to each other. “Shall I tell Abraham what I know?” God asks, thinking of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Shall I tell Abraham that people can be evil, that sometimes there is destruction beyond what any of us can tolerate? It’s no less true in 2023 than it was in Biblical times. It’s enough to make us wish that we had stayed in the Garden of Eden, not eaten of the fruit from the tree and therefore obtained knowledge of good and evil. But humans made the choice to fully inhabit this world, and that choice means that we encounter not just the joy and the grace but also the lies and the destruction. With that in mind, yes, God answers. I will tell the human. 

Later, toward the end of the portion, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. And, stunningly enough, Abraham agrees. 

בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֧ם אֶת־עֵינָ֛יו וַיַּ֥רְא אֶת־הַמָּק֖וֹם מֵרָחֹֽק׃

So early next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw Ha-makom from afar.

This is a terrible story; it’s the worst story. It’s a story of a parent walking toward the sacrifice of his own child. And I would venture to say that Abraham knew exactly how awful this moment was. If we look at the bolded text it can be translated in two ways. The first is the more typical translation: “On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar” (ie, the place where he was to sacrifice his son). But as we learned this past summer, the Hebrew word “makom” is also a name for God. So another legitimate translation is, “On the third day Abraham looked up and saw God was [still] far away.” Even after walking for three days–longer than was actually necessary to reach the mountain–Abraham was still searching for Makom/God. But God was far away. 

How was “makom”-as-God made manifest, the medieval commentator Rashi asks? This “makom,” this manifestation of God-who-we-can’t-reach, was revealed as a cloud. An opaque, confounding, cloud. 

Sometimes in difficult moments, God feels very close, and we are grateful to be accompanied. But sometimes, no matter how far we journey, God remains distant–and our belief is shaken. We are like those who walk backward on the escalator, staying in place, neither rising nor falling. 

That is where I am today. God feels far away. The clouds have rolled in, and I’ve lost my bearings. Still, I know that even in these dark times, I am not alone. We will find our way to Mt. Moriah together. This holy mountain, remember, according to Jews, is where our ancestor Isaac was almost-sacrificed. And according to Muslims, it is where their ancestor Ishmael was almost-sacrificed. And when their father, our common ancestor Abraham, finally found makom/God on top of Mt. Moriah, it was a God who no longer wanted us to sacrifice any of our children. May peace come soon in Israel, and may it be a lasting peace, for all of Isaac and Ishmael’s descendants.

With so much love,
Rabbi Shira


Friday, October 20, 2023
Dear Aspen Jewish Congregation community,

לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב

“My heart is in the East, and I in the uttermost west,” wrote the poet Rabbi Judah Halevi, a statement no less true today than it was when he wrote it more than a thousand years ago. We continue to pray for our Israeli brethren under rocket attack, for our soldiers fighting on multiple fronts, and for the hostages in Gaza. We mourn the more than 1,400 Israelis who died in the initial massacre and the war thus far. Many of us also grieve Palestinian civilians who have been killed, injured, or displaced in the Israeli military response to the Hamas attack, or in Hamas attacks on their own people. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, however, we hope we can all agree that we want this war to end as quickly as possible, and with as few casualties as will keep Israel safe. We also hope we can hold each other in our pain in this terrible moment. 

On Wednesday night, the AJC board met and discussed how we can support each other in this difficult time. For now, we decided on the following:

Listening Circles: This Tuesday, October 24, from 6-7:15 PM MT, Rabbi Elyse Seidner-Joseph will lead a listening circle on Zoom. We will create space to share feelings that have arisen in these past few weeks. Everyone who would like to will have the opportunity to speak from their heart, and to listen as others speak as well. This will not be a forum for debate or disputation. RSVP by replying to this email. We will send a link. If you are interested but not able to attend, let us know, because we may offer additional opportunities.

Reinstating once-weekly weekday morning prayer services: We are going to experiment with reinstating our weekly, in-person, lay-led prayer service, a place where people can come together to pray, mourn, and be in community, no experience necessary. While our weekday service was historically on Wednesday mornings, it will now be on Thursday mornings. Weekday services begin on Thursday, November 2 at 8:30 AM MT in the Aspen Chapel gallery and will continue weekly. If you would like to join via Zoom, RSVP by replying to this email. We will send a link.

For parents with babies and toddlers: Rabbi Sima will lead a conversation on fear and grieving in this difficult moment on Thursday, November 2 at 10:30 AM MT in the Aspen Chapel gallery. 

For parents with children in Hebrew School: Rabbi Sima has shared minimal information with the students, explaining that there is a war going on in Israel, and reassuring the students that they are safe. She also encouraged the students to talk to a trusted adult if they feel scared, hear something scary or confusing, or have questions. If you have any questions about how to talk to your children about this, whether they initiate questions or you would like to keep them informed, just reply to this email.

For parents of teens: Aspen Jewish Congregation, in partnership with the American Jewish Committee and Aspen Chabad, will host two events at which 7-12th graders (and their parents) will be encouraged to ask all their questions about Israel and antisemitism, and will gain resources for future use. The first event will be November 1, 5:30-7:00 PM, and the second will be over the course of the day on Sunday December 3. Families will receive more information from Cori Berger, who is chairing this effort, by next week. 

For our college students: It would be our honor to be in touch with any of your kids on campus who may be struggling. Rabbi Shira has experience counseling young adults across the political spectrum. Her cell phone is 215-287-8413. Rabbi Sima, 516-581-6680, who your children may know better, is also available. Give students our numbers–or get their permission to give us theirs.

Israel subcommittee: We are going to build an ad hoc Israel committee to discuss how AJC will program around and support Israel in the future. If you are interested in participating, just reply to this email. We are looking for a diversity of ages, life-stages, and political opinions to represent the fullness of our community. 

Tzedakah options: There are many tzedakahs (charities) to which you may want to donate. We will include some organizations in our emails for the foreseeable future. We encourage you to send recommendations to us (and also know we may not have space to list all of them). 

We have other ideas in the works, as well. We commit to keeping you updated. Please continue to send us your suggestions. 

Before we close, beloved community, one more thing: In moments like these, community is more important than ever. Consider coming to Shabbat services at the Chapel this Friday night for prayers and to hear Ivan Jackson, Executive Director of Lift Up, talk about what we can do to ease food insecurity in the RFV. Consider hosting or attending a dinner for Shabbat @ Home next week, October 27. To participate, register here by Monday, October 23. We will also have services in Aspen on November 3 and 10th. On November 17th, Rabbi Shira will be in town, leading services with our Mountain Minyan musicians in Carbondale. Between now and then, if you want to talk, we are only a phone call or a Zoom away.

With so much love,
Rabbi Shira and Rabbi Sima


Sunday, October 15, 2023
Dear Aspen Jewish Congregation community,

I am writing to you from the campus of Brown University, where, as many of you know, I have two children in college. The week for them has been a whirlwind of emotions: from my daughter posting on Instagram the prayer for Israeli soldiers--but doing it in Hebrew only, so non-Hebrew speaking followers wouldn't know that she was praying for the IDF--to the beautiful story of one of my kids' friends "single-handedly" staving off her environmental club's sign-on to an unfair, untrue, and polarizing statement about Israel and Gaza. There was a rally on Wednesday night cosponsored by Chabad and Hillel at which the President of Brown spoke. And there were awful counter-rallies, as well. 

I know that many of you share in the sadness, pain, trauma, loneliness and discombobulation that stems from Hamas' vicious attack on Israel. I also saw the deeply unfair and dangerous cartoon in the Aspen Times a few days ago. (I will not repost it here because the paper does not deserve the clicks.) And one of the worst parts is that we are pretty sure that there is more to come. 

Last week's Torah portion, Bereshit, reminds us that the world began in tohu va'vohu, chaos. From that nothingness comes all of the beauty of creation--humanity, nature, Shabbat. While in my most despairing moments I feel like we are regressing back to tohu va'vohu, I also believe that our tradition demands otherwise. If history proves anything, it is that the Jewish people will come through this terrible moment.

Over the next few weeks, as the situation in Israel, Gaza, and even, God forbid, Lebanon continues to unfold, AJC commits to including the prayer for captives and the prayer for Israel in our prayer services. We will alert the community of tzedakahs to which you can contribute. If you hear of antisemitism in the community, please let us know, so we can respond. On Wednesday night, our board will meet to continue to discuss our communal response. If you have any opinions, please let a member of our board know. 

As you know, among Jews there is a diversity of opinion regarding Israel. As Israel decides whether to enter a full ground war in Gaza, some of those divisions will start to surface. While there are definitely some opinions that put people beyond the pale, I also want to encourage us to treat each other gently. The fact that you may not want Israel to launch a full invasion of Gaza does not mean that you are not deeply hurting for murdered Israelis. On the other hand, the fact that you may support an invasion does not mean that you are not hurting for innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire. We all contain multitudes. Let us treat each other with love and kindness and compassion and model the world that we want to build. 

I will be in Aspen from Tuesday to Thursday of this week for a few days. If you want to meet for any reason, just let me know. 

Rabbi Shira Stutman

Sat, June 22 2024 16 Sivan 5784