New Faces at YAD Shabbat
When the first in-person JEWISHcolorado YAD Shabbat took place in August 2021 after a long period of pandemic-related remote events, the atmosphere was alive with excitement and delight. Friends who had not seen each other in person for months greeted each other with joy.
“I know I was excited to be there!” exclaims Adam Laarsen, a member of the YAD (Young Adult Divison) volunteer committee that works with JEWISHcolorado’s professional staff and other lay leaders to create opportunities for gathering and building community among Jewish community members between the ages of 21 and 45.
In addition to the familiar faces, the excitement of the evening was enhanced by an infusion of fresh faces.
“A lot of new people moved to Colorado during the pandemic because they had the opportunity to work remotely,” Laarsen says. “To have them join us for this event made it even more exciting because we realized our community had grown!”
The success of that event led to a series of YAD Shabbat events throughout the year. Laarsen describes the YAD committee as an “idea factory” and JEWISHcolorado staff as the “boots on the ground.” Together, they planned an event in December at the Denver Botanic Gardens which included a walk through the dazzling Blossoms of Light. In spring, YAD Shabbat moved to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for another very popular event where attendees could visit exhibits and some even participated in an impromptu guitar jam session in a music room.
All of these experiences affirm for Laarsen that his commitment to planning these events serves his community.
“I didn’t grow up super connected to the Jewish community,” he says. “But as I have gotten older, I realized how important being Jewish is to me personally.”
Remote during the pandemic
YAD had an in-person Shabbat event set for a just days after the mid-March 2020 COVID lockdown and the statewide stay-at-home order issued by Governor Jared Polis. It would have seemed doomed, but never underestimate the determination of planners like Laarsen. They pushed the event back to April and created their first-ever virtual YAD Shabbat which attracted dozens of people.
“One of the things I love about the Jewish community is that we didn’t skip a beat,” says Laarsen. “We made adjustments, there was no complaining, and the most important thing is that people turned out.”
The early enthusiasm for virtual events paved the way for more themed events, holiday celebrations, including Chanukah and Purim events, as well as pod celebrations for Sukkot.
The impressive rates of participation reflected the hard work of YAD Director Jenna Raimist and YAD leaders like Laarsen.
A renewed appreciation for in-person experiences
Laarsen, an extroverted service industry veteran-turned-CPA, says he loves to interact with people. Born in New Mexico, he had lived in Chile and New Jersey before the family settled in Denver. He became a Bar Mitzvah at Temple Sinai in Denver, got his first pet goldfish at a Purim Carnival, reconnected to the Jewish community after college when he was introduced to YAD, and eventually became a YAD Ambassador. From there, he joined the YAD Executive Committee and became Chair of the YAD Board, and he now sits on JEWISHcolorado’s Board of Directors.
“I was taught that charity is a good thing—whether you give money or time,” he says. “I decided to give my time. It energizes me and gives me joy.”
As pandemic restrictions were lifted, people attending YAD Shabbat demonstrated a renewed appreciation for the ability to gather in person—especially when there is a chance you will meet a transplant from elsewhere in the country. “I think people look forward to these events because they see people they haven’t connected with in a while,” Laarsen says. “But now there’s a new reason to go—you can meet someone you don’t know. And these new people are excited to part of the Denver Jewish community.”