New rabbi brings a different approach to Steamboat

Audrey Dwyer
Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman leads a discussion Saturday morning at The Ranch in Steamboat Springs.
Audrey Dwyer

— As the new Rabbi in town, Mark Asher Goodman has his work cut out for him.

In a town that frowns on indoor activities due to the beautiful landscape found by just looking out a window, building a connection to a traditional religion can be somewhat challenging.

“I think the skill set of a mountain Rabbi is really different than a big city, small city, or even rural city Rabbi,” said Goodman. “There is a sense that people in Steamboat are really outdoorsy and to confine God and religion to inside a building in a conventional manner doesn’t suit people in this town very well.”

He likes to think outside the box, so to speak.

“It means you have to find God on a bike ride, skiing, or taking a hike,” he said.

In 2006, he was ordained from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, a seminary on the West Coast. He then went on to be the founding spiritual leader of the Surf City Synagogue in Huntington Beach, CA until 2011. An avid outdoor enthusiast he was brought to Denver where he now resides with his wife and family and serves as the School Rabbi and Director of Judaic Studies at the Denver Jewish Day School.

After Rabbi Joe Goldman retired after nine years there was a need for another leader of the Jewish community. Known as the oldest skiing rabbi, it was hard to find a good fit, but leaders of the congregation found that Rabbi Goodman was the ideal person for Steamboat.

Hired to be the new Rabbi for Steamboat in June of this year, his combination of accomplishments as a biblical leader and also the fact that he was known as a prominent teacher and leader at the religious private school in Denver won over the congregation.

“We knew he was very favored by the students there for his teachings but also how he was able to relate to the students,” said Bert Halberstadt, the president of the congregation in town

The job of a Rabbi can be somewhat tricky, Goodman advised. One that takes earning trust of the congregation and keeping their interest at heart.

“People will tell you things they wouldn’t tell anyone else, but in order to have that you have to build that level of trust so they know you will be there for them when they need you,” he said about what it was like when people in the congregation would share some of their biggest life moments with him.

For Halberstadt it was icing on the cake that Goodman had also been a renowned ski instructor in Taos, New Mexico where he won a Ski Instructor of the Year award.

Coming from a community in California that revolved around outdoor activities, it was a simple fit for him to join the local Jewish community in Steamboat.

“He is entertaining yet serious at the same time,” said Halberstadt about Goodman and what he brings to the community. “It’s been very enlightening to have him.”

On Saturday morning, Goodman led a discussion of readings from the Torah and Talmud. For him, it’s about making the teachings personally relevant to each and every person.

“I take all of my life’s lessons when I come do teachings but I also take the perspective from the school that ordained me,” he said about being a conservative rabbi, one that combines tradition and change in his teachings . “It’s also about building relationships between me and the congregants.”

After his initial welcoming as the new rabbi in July, he has been to Steamboat three times now. In the future he plans to be here for the upcoming major holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in addition to any other time that he is needed by someone in the congregation.

Instead of competing with the skiing and snowboarding lifestyle for the community of Steamboat in the winter he plans to have a few teachings right on the slopes.

“That’s one of my goals, to try and be in a position we can go where they are at,” he said. “It’s about finding that balance in such a way that the kids will want to learn about the Torrah and Judaism but also be able to go skiing.”

As their new leader the congregation hopes Goodman will bring inspiration and leadership for the community. In a welcoming community like Steamboat he looks forward to what the future will bring. 

“It’s a really alive place and there are so many things happening, it’s a very warm community here,” he noted looking out the window to the backdrop of a dewy mountain that stood dewy from the rain yet picturesque nonetheless.

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