Temple Aaron achieves national honor

Mar 25, 2024 | Article, Newsletter

Until December 2023, there were only seven synagogues listed as National Historic Landmarks in the nation. Now there are eight, and, remarkably, the eighth is in Trinidad, Colorado.

On March 23, 2024, more than 100 people attended a dedication ceremony on a windy spring day marking the official designation of Temple Aaron in Trinidad as a National Historic Landmark. U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland approved the designation on December 11, 2023, making Temple Aaron one of only 28 National Historic Landmarks in Colorado. Historian Astrid Liverman of the National Park Service unveiled the historic marker plaque.

Temple Aaron National Historic Landmark dedication ceremony

Astrid Liverman of the National Park Service

In its nomination of Temple Aaron for this honor, Colorado Preservation, Inc., wrote “More than 130 years after the synagogue’s construction in 1889 and more than 135 years after its first minyan gathered, this small congregation—because of its dedicated stewardship of Temple Aaron—sustains the story of the Jewish people in the American West into the twenty-first century.”

National Historic Landmark status is the culmination of a multi-year effort led by Neal Paul, President of the Temple Aaron Board of Directors, and a coalition of supporters to save Temple Aaron from closing its doors and being sold to the highest bidder.

Neal Paul at Temple Aaron's National Historic Landmark dedication ceremony

Neal Paul

“We are thrilled to have achieved this important milestone toward preservation of the Temple,” said Paul. “We are even more excited to work with our growing community of supporters to build on the rich historic legacy of the founders and families who established the congregation nearly 140 years ago.” The morning’s ceremony was preceded by Shabbat Services led by Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Albuquerque.

Speakers at the ceremony included Trinidad City Manager Steve Ruger, Trinidad Mayor Karen Griego, preservation advocate Dana Crawford, Colorado Preservation Inc. Executive Director Jennifer Charles, New Mexico Jewish Historical Society co-President Linda Goff, long-time synagogue members and brothers Randy and Ronald Rubin, National Historic Landmarks researcher Rachel Leibovitz, and JEWISHcolorado President & CEO Renée Rockford.

Temple Aaron National Historic Landmark dedication ceremony

“As we stand outside the hallowed walls of this historic synagogue, we are reminded of the journeys taken, the trials endured, and the triumphs achieved by those who came before us,” Rockford said. “This synagogue stands as a testament to the enduring faith, determination, and perseverance of the Jewish community. That resilience and endurance should not be lost on us in this moment when we feel as though we are in a fight for the soul of the Jewish people.”

Saving Temple Aaron

The mission to save Temple Aaron began in September 2016 when Neal Paul was listening to Colorado Public Radio and happened to hear a report about a storied Trinidad temple that was up for sale.

“It was deflating, like a kick in the gut,” he says. “How can you sell a historic synagogue?”

Paul traveled to Trinidad to see Temple Aaron—an elegant 11,000 square-foot red brick building with original stained-glass windows, a century-old Estey pipe organ, and a sanctuary that holds 250 people.

“I fell in love,” Paul recalls. “It seemed far too special and too important not to save.”

Since then, a Temple Aaron community has formed, including more than 1,500 supporters and 80 member families. People come from far and wide to celebrate religious holidays, Bar/Bat mitzvahs, and other life events.

Temple Aaron in Trindad, Colorado

The community has raised funds to complete restoration projects, including the replacement of the temple’s boiler, emergency roof repairs, and a full assessment of replacement costs for the original pressed metal roof and its distinctive onion dome. They are now seeking grants and other funding to replace the full roof.

Celebrating Temple Aaron

Where there was once a “For Sale” sign, there is now a place for a thriving Jewish community to gather.

On March 23, gather they did, to pray and to celebrate. After the dedication ceremony, attendees stayed for lunch, took tours of the temple, and enjoyed a concert on the temple’s pipe organ. Then they switched their attention to Purim, with costumes and the making of groggers, a Havdalah service and Megillah reading. Finally, everyone gathered at the Trinidad lounge for an evening of music with the Hamantashens and members of Gora Gora Orkestar from Denver.

The Temple Aaron community now has a future—and they are making plans. The next in-person event will be Passover Seder on April 27, 2024.

Temple Aaron National Historic Landmark plaque

Once listed as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places, Temple Aaron will be awarded Colorado Preservation, Inc.’s Endangered Places Progress Award at the Dana Crawford Awards dinner in May, yet another reason to congratulate the visionaries and the supporters who have given Temple Aaron a new life in a new century.

Yasher Koach and our deepest gratitude goes to Neal Paul and to all those who have contributed to the restoration of this synagogue—the donors, volunteers, historians, and community leaders who ensured that this landmark endures for generations to come,” Rockford said. “I hope this event today is a reminder of the joyous celebrations, heartfelt prayers, and moments of reflection that have taken place for so many years in this building and of the comfort that comes from being together in a place of sanctuary.”