Trinidad, Colorado, is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. Victorian houses line streets paved in red brick, kids play by the fountain, and walks down Main Street often lead to hugs and conversations.
But while the Victorian architecture and old-time friendliness has remained, some things are changing in this small town near New Mexico’s border. Trinidad is leaving behind its boom or bust history of coal mining and natural gas exploration and moving toward a more sustainable economic focus of arts and culture. At the same time the state’s oldest synagogue, Temple Aaron, built in 1883, is being sold, a sign of Trinidad’s dwindling Jewish population and an inability for the town to maintain the aging building.
To mark Temple Aaron’s final event as a synagogue, Nan Goodman, director of CU Boulder’s Program in Jewish Studies, is slated to speak in the historic building, located approximately 225 miles south of campus. On Saturday, Sept. 24, she will talk about Sabbatai Sevi, an eccentric 17th century Jew who declared himself the Jewish Messiah.
The lecture is part of CU Boulder’s new Peak to Peak lecture series, which brings Jewish Studies faculty members to Colorado communities that have less connection with CU Boulder to share innovative perspectives on historical figures, events and enduring questions. The Peak to Peak Series is offered through the Program in Jewish Studies, a non-religious academic program that engages people of all backgrounds in exploring Jewish culture, history and society. It operates in partnership with the CU Boulder Office for Outreach and Engagement’s Arts and Humanities Initiative. All Peak to Peak presentations are free and open to the public.
“Because of the real hunger we have seen from community members in Denver and Boulder for this type of information, we thought we could spread the wealth in different communities,” said Goodman, who founded the Peak to Peak series.
Participating in Peak to Peak fits Trinidad’s desire to bring arts and culture to the small town and interest in learning about its Jewish history, said Marilyn Leuszler, a Trinidad resident and chair of Corazón de Trinidad Creative District. It’s also a fitting ending event for a synagogue that has stood for more than 130 years, she said.
“Participating in Peak to Peak will help educate those of us who live here and call Trinidad home,” Leuszler said.
Leuszler explains that developing the arts and culture of Trinidad is part of a plan for the town’s year-round sustainability. In 2014, Trinidad was designated as a creative district by Colorado Creative Industries, a state entity that led the community to embark on an economic development strategy that put creativity front and center.
Peak to Peak, which offers four lectures for the current academic year, was made possible by a $3,400 grant from CU Boulder’s Office for Outreach and Engagement. The office works to partner Peak to Peak with arts and humanities organizations in communities around Colorado.
Besides Trinidad, this year’s Peak to Peak lectures will also be delivered in Carbondale and one other rural location in the Spring of 2017. The first lecture of the series was delivered in Aspen in August.
The idea for Peak to Peak originated with University of Connecticut’s Judaic Studies Road Show, a similar program where UConn professors lecture in outlying communities, Goodman said. But unlike Connecticut, where densely populated areas are in easy reach, the Colorado program involves reaching out to small communities hundreds of miles away.
Goodman said Peak to Peak will increase awareness around the state that the Jewish studies program is academic, not religious. Over time she hopes the Peak to Peak program can be expanded to work with other community partners, such as high schools.
And what will happen to Temple Aaron? There is a small chance that whoever purchases the historic building will continue the tradition of offering a Jewish service there once per year, Leuszler said.
“We’re all hoping,” she said.