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The most historic synagogue in the Mountain West (that portion of the United States between the Dakotas and the West Coast) sits not in any big city but on a quiet street in the small town of Trinidad, Colorado. Trinidad is about 200 miles south of Denver and 15 miles north of the New Mexico border.  The town was founded in the 1860’s as a stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail and has been home to Jews ever since. In fact, when the town incorporated in 1876, its first mayor, Sam Jaffa, was Jewish. The local Jewish community founded Congregation Aaron (named after Sam’s father) in 1883. Six years later in 1889, for the princely sum of approximately $12,000, the congregation built the magnificent red brick structure that still graces 407 South Maple Street today- Temple Aaron. It is one of less than two dozen original structures that have continuously been synagogues since the 19th century in the United States, and the second oldest such structure west of the Mississippi River.

Temple Aaron not only served its immediate congregation, but warmly welcomed the entire Trinidad community by hosting concerts, dinners, and other public events. The temple was the spiritual and cultural home to many Jewish families who raised their children there.

After almost 130 years, Trinidad has undergone many changes, and a relatively small congregation found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the costs of maintaining the building. In 2016, the temple’s parent foundation, the Alfred Freudenthal Memorial Foundation, made the agonizing decision to close the temple’s doors.

But the story does not end there. Concerned individuals and foundations have united to preserve Temple Aaron as a Jewish landmark. Colorado Preservation, Inc, named Temple Aaron as one of its Most Endangered Places in 2017. The State Historical Fund has granted initial funding for masonry repairs and other immediate needs. 

Save Temple Aaron Campaign

Temple Aaron’s immediate needs include repairs to the roof, interior and exterior preservation, a new boiler, painting and woodwork repairs, and upgrading of the bathrooms. In addition these one-time repairs, the first phase of fundraising aims to cover two years of operating expenses and to commission a historic building assessment. A capital campaign to make these repairs and permanently endow the building will begin shortly. 

Special thanks go to Larry A. Mizel and other generous donors who have contributed to Temple Aaron, including Max and Elaine Appel, David London, ESQ., Dana Crawford, Michael Staenberg, Stuart Zall, Peter Kudla, Jay and Gina Cimino, Jim Sullivan, Kevin Bernet, James Noble, Les Liman and Twin Enviro Services, Devon McFarland Arguello, and many others.

Read about Temple Aaron in the Summer 2019 issue of HaLapid, the journal of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies

Take a Virtual Tour of Temple Aaron here! This zoom presentation was given June 10, 2020 for Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles and Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu.

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