History of the Jewish Community in Summit County
From the Atlantic to the Pacific, there were Jewish pioneers who wove the pattern of their lives into the picturesque design of American history. Jews migrated to Colorado in 1859 to join in the hunt for freedom, new opportunities, and wealth. They spread west to the burgeoning towns that sprung up along the rivers and creeks where gold was discovered and the mountains where silver ore was extracted. Denver became the jumping off place for miners and the center of Jewish life in the Colorado territory. Jewish peddlers, later to become prosperous merchants, set up shop to keep the miners supplied. This was repeated in the mountain mining towns.
In 1877 there were 422 Jews in Colorado. They found a unique environment in many ways. The West was egalitarian and open to new ideas: a social order where Jews were accepted by gentiles as fellow pioneers. The Diaspora of Eastern European Jews to America from the 1880s until 1920 significantly increased the Jewish population in Colorado to 20,321 in 1927 and to more than 110,000 today. The Jewish population in the Denver/Boulder metropolitan area has grown more than 33% in the last decade.
In the 1980’s the permanent Jewish population of Summit and Eagle counties was small. Religious services were held in the Interfaith Chapel at Vail under the leadership of Art Kleimer, founder of B’nai Vail. Jews passed easily across Vail Pass to experience the warmth and informality encouraged by the “mountain” lifestyle.
Sandy Greenhut of Dillon organized the diminutive Summit County Jewish community into the Synagogue of the Summit in 1990. Meetings and High Holy Day services, as well as a Sunday School for children, were first held in the Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon.
By the mid-1990’s the population of Summit County grew along with the number of Jews. The migration to the mountain lifestyle reflects the long economic boom of the 90’s. The desire of individuals and families to escape the anonymity of urban living, and the simplicity and slower pace of life that seemed to exist in the mountain communities, attracted many to the county. Today, we are families and friends who share the bond of Judaism in our beloved Summit County.