Jewish congregation dedicates house of worship
S.R. 224 snakes its way from near Kimball Junction to the lip of the mountains in Park City. Despite being clogged with traffic some days, commuters enjoy one of the most serene views any state road in the world has to offer.
But that’s not why Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott calls the route the Highway to Heaven.
She calls the road the Highway to Heaven because it is spotted with Lutheran, Episcopalian and Catholic churches.
Add Temple Har Shalom, Park City’s first synagogue, to the list.
The temple was dedicated Friday and congregants held discussion groups and luncheons through Tuesday. "It’s a beautiful, beautiful building and I think it speaks very well for Park City," Elliott said. "Park City has always been a place that is diverse. One of the funny things is that our mines were owned by people of the Jewish faith."
Some members of the faith say the idea of a unified Jewish identity has eroded in the years since the mining magnates, but there’s one thing most Jews still have in common, says Adam Bronfman of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation: They go to college.
"My father tells me that in his generation being Jewish was something that was thrust upon you," he said. "Now we have so many different identities. How do I say I’m part of Park City and Utah and America and own a full share of that and at the same time be uniquely Jewish and own a full share of that?"
Bronfman is the managing director of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation and one of three panelists speaking during a lunch and discussion Monday entitled "How Is Our Children’s Judaism Different Than Ours?"
The lecture series featured speakers addressing the global Jewish identity, the Jewish diaspora, religious extremism, secularism and the trend of tribalism.
Wayne Firestone, the president of Hillel, the foundation for Jewish campus life, travels around the country talking about the Jewish faith. He said he tries to engage students on a variety of topics. During the discussion Monday, he implored the Park City community to do more to get kids involved in their faith. "I feel American Jews have outsourced our most important Jewish moments to event planners, caterers and Jewish summer camps," he said. "Religious teaching must begin in the home."
Firestone said that members of his generation, Generation X, spent an average of just 15 minutes per day with their parents. That had led some in the faith, no longer defined by anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, to become more secular, he said. "Young people are saying, up front, prove to me that it’s valuable. They’re not looking for Jewish questions, but they’re open to Jewish answers."
One of the challenges for a religious community in the modern world, the panelists said, was having several competing notions of identity. "What your friends say matters more than what Tom Brokaw says, than what the Rabbi says," Firestone bemoaned.
Bronfman is the picture of the modern Jewish man. He wore a gold earring a la Andre Agassi in his left ear Monday and boasted an athletic frame. Addressing a crowd of about 100 people, Bronfman recalled an incident growing up in New York when the family dog fell ill. "My dad told me to pray to God," he said. "I thought, and I’m a little scared to say this, ‘Jews believe in God?’"
Park City’s Jewish congregation had about 100 member families two years ago, when the Temple Har Shalom operated out of an office building in Prospector Square.
The 2,200 square-foot synagogue across S.R. 224 from St. Mary’s Church houses administrative offices, eight classrooms, a board room-library on the second floor, a café, the sanctuary and a social hall, according to officials.
Bronfman said it was gratifying to see a crowd of 600 people, including Mayor Dana Williams and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., at the synagogue’s dedication Friday. "I think [the turnout] means we did it right," Bronfman said, who has been involved with the planning of the temple since 2003, when Rabbi Josh Aaronson and other church leaders decided the Jewish community needed a permanent home. "We built a community and then we built a home for that community," Bronfman said. "You can build a church and no one comes, so I think we were really gratified."
Bronfman said one of the strengths of the Jewish community in Park City is its openness and willingness to reach out to members. Rabbi Aaronson has even held services at the ski resorts to try to appeal to skiers.
Irene Levine lives in Los Angeles and owns a home in the Colony at White Pine Canyon. She flew in for the dedication Friday and recently joined the congregation. "How wonderful to have a synagogue at our front door!" she exclaimed. "I’m so pleased to see such a magnificent synagogue."
Bronfman said 60 percent of congregants at Temple Har Shalom live in Park City fulltime. For the out-of-towners and those who own second homes in Park City, having a place to call home is an important component of the community.
"It makes me contemplate having a permanent residence here," said Wendy Passer, whose primary residence is in Las Vegas. She said she thought Park City would be a good place to raise her kids.
Mary Haskins of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., added that she was impressed that a small community could build such an impressive house of worship. "When you have so many Jews around you don’t need [a synagogue] as much," she said. "When you’re back is against the wall you reach for who you are."
Bob Richer, a county commissioner for Summit County, said planners worked hard to listen to the community during the process of building the synagogue. "Whenever you have any organization serving the public and helping people it’s a great addition to the county." He added that the temple is a "beautiful architectural statement."
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