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EDCUtah DEI Profile: Congregation Kol Ami

April 4, 2022

EDCUtah is highlighting a Utah community organization or multicultural resource group each month. This is part of an effort to inform our investors about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) best practices and resources in Utah.

We spoke to Rabbi Sam Spector of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City for a peek into Utah’s thriving Jewish community.

 

Tell us about the Jewish community in Utah, and your mission at Congregation Kol Ami.
Kol Ami means “All My People.” Our mission is to provideJews by birth, Jews by choice, interfaith families and people who just want to support the Jewish community a place to worship, learn, and celebrate Judaism in a dynamic and caring community. We are affiliated with both the Conservative and Reform traditions of Judaism. Every person counts and everyone is welcome. 

Judaism has a long history in Utah. The first Jewish family came to Utah in 1853 – just a few years after the Latter-Day Saint pioneers. Since then, Jews have been involved in every facet of community life in Utah. The first Utah synagogues were built in the 1880s and 1890s. Utah elected a Jewish Governor in 1917 – Simon Bamberger. He was the second Jewish Governor in the United States. Like many Jews of his time, he was a merchant. He came out to build a hotel, he invested in silver mines and, to the delight of many of the kids in our congregation, he also created Lagoon Amusement Park.

We’ve long valued our partnership and mutual respect with our Mormon neighbors. Back in 1866, Brigham Young let the Jewish community use space in Temple Square for the first high holiday celebration in Utah.

We don’t know exactly how many Jews are in Utah today – we estimate at least 5,000 – and we’re proud to say that Kol Ami currently serves around 400 families and is still growing.

 

What are your main services in the community?
As a synagogue, we provide pastoral care services, lifecycle events, and regular worship services for the Jewish community. We host a morning prayer service on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and also our regular Sabbath worship on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Everyone is welcome to attend.

We also offer exciting and innovative adult education opportunities as well as a vibrant religious school for our younger members. We even have a preschool with play-based learning onsite.

Another big part of what we do is social action work, helping people in the community who might be in need. We do a lot of important things to educate about Judaism, to pray together as Jews, and also to live authentically as Jews by doing good things in our community.

We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with folks who are connected to EDCUtah. We are experiencing growth in our community from all of the great companies that are discovering that Utah is a wonderful place to be, and are bringing Jewish employees with them. But that also means that we are a growing congregation, with growing needs, and we’re in need of more resources. We are always looking for partnership opportunities, and we are extremely grateful to donors who believe in the work we’re doing and want to celebrate and support a vibrant Jewish community in Utah.

 

What is an accomplishment from the past year that you are proud of?
Unfortunately, over the past few years there has been a rise in anti-Semitism across the United States including a few incidents here in Utah. But what we’ve seen, as a result of a few people’s bigoted views, was an outpouring of love from the greater Utah community. People said, “We want to understand Anti-Semitism more and we want to become allies in combatting it.”

As a result, I’ve been able to give presentations to thousands of individuals – including several companies, schools, organizations, and churches – talking about the history of Anti-Semitism, how to identify it, and how to combat it. We’ve seen incredible improvements in making Utah a place free from hate, including the unanimous passage [in the 2022 Legislative Session] of a resolution in both the Utah House and Senate condemning Anti-Semitism in Utah.

If your company or organization is interested in a similar discussion, please reach out to me. It is a pleasure of mine to be able to help create a more inclusive Utah.

 

You came to Utah from Los Angeles. What is the difference between being an LA Rabbi and a Utah Rabbi?
The community is more tight knit here and everyone becomes each other's Jewish family. On a lighter note, in Los Angeles, there are thousands of rabbis. I remember I once got so excited because there was some news program filming an event I attended, and I wound up on TV somewhere in the background. Here, I get interviewed by news folks a couple of times a month and have learned to be comfortable on camera.

 

What else should we know?
Utah is a wonderful place to be Jewish. People don’t realize that, because they don’t think of Utah as a center for Judaism. But here in Utah – community and religion are important values to the state and to its residents. As a result, we have a growing, tight-knit Jewish community that is an example to other parts of the country. It’s to the point where other rabbis ask me, “What are you all doing in Salt Lake City? Because everybody is talking about the work that you all are doing!”

We might not be the first place you’d think about for a Jewish community, but of everywhere I have lived, this is the most exciting, warmest experience I’ve had in being a part of a Jewish community. Everybody who finds us finds an immediate home. Most Jews in Utah are transplants, so we become each other’s families. So, for any Jewish person out there considering making Utah their home, I’d say – there’s a reason we’re called Zion. You will certainly find a home here in Utah.

 

For more information, visit www.kolami.org.

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