A Jewish governor needed a Tanakh to be sworn in, Jewish educators came to his rescue

With 30 minutes to swearing-in, people attending the inauguration for Polis, put out frantic calls to Denver’s Jewish community.

Jared Polis (photo credit: OFFICE OF CONGRESSMAN JARED POLIS/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Jared Polis
(photo credit: OFFICE OF CONGRESSMAN JARED POLIS/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A conference of Jewish educators became first responders of sorts when Colorado Gov. Jared Polis had an emergency: The Jewish Democrat was about to be sworn in for a second term and he couldn’t find his Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible.

It ended well — “when looking for a Tanakh, there’s never one too far away,” a Polis spokeswoman said later — but for a while it was fraught. With 30 minutes to swearing-in, folks attending Tuesday’s inauguration for Polis, Colorado’s first Jewish governor, put out frantic calls to Denver’s Jewish community.

David Foster, a politically involved lawyer attending the swearing-in, texted Emily Hyatt, the associate rabbi at the city’s Temple Emanuel, where Foster’s father, Steven, is rabbi emeritus. Hyatt was lunching at a Jewish deli, Zaidy’s, with the Temple’s cantor, Elizabeth Sacks.

“I dashed to my car, drove to the Capitol building, got clearance from security, and finally delivered the Tanakh to a member of the Governor’s staff–just seconds before he was sworn into office,”

Avi Halzel

Finding a Tanakh

KOREN TANAKH, different versions.  (credit: Courtesy Koren Publishers)KOREN TANAKH, different versions. (credit: Courtesy Koren Publishers)

It occurred to Hyatt that there was a hotel packed with Tanakh-toting folks just two blocks from the Capitol, where Polis was to be sworn in. She texted Avi Halzel, who heads the Denver Jewish Day School and who was attending the annual national conference of Prizmah, a network of Jewish day schools.

Halzel approached Paul Bernstein, the Prizmah CEO, who immediately went into process-of-elimination calculations: Who at the conference was present at the hotel over Shabbat? (Those conference-goers were likelier to have the entire Hebrew Bible, which is necessary for Shabbat services, than those who attended only on weekdays.)

“We quietly went around some of the participants who might have a Tanakh,” Bernstein said in an interview.

Halzel realized a more obvious answer lay in the vendor at the Mesorah Publications booth. Halzel secured a Tanakh (the Stone edition) from the vendor.

“I figured, what what is the fastest way I can get a hold of a Tanakh?” Halzel said in an interview. Walking over to the booth, Halzel wondered if he could adequately explain the dilemma to the vendor in time to get the bible to the governor. “He immediately just smiled at me,” Halzel said. “I mean, it’s the kind of story that’s too crazy to not be true. And so he just turned around, grabbed a Tanakh, and handed it to me.”

“I dashed to my car, drove to the Capitol building, got clearance from security, and finally delivered the Tanakh to a member of the Governor’s staff–just seconds before he was sworn into office,” Halzel said in a post on the Denver Jewish Day School Instagram feed.

“We are so grateful that Avi was able to get hold of a copy of the Tanakh from Mesorah Publications, which was among the exhibitors at the Prizmah Conference, and deliver it quickly to the Capitol,” Bernstein said.

In a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Polis invoked the ancient Jewish encomium about Jews coming together for one another.

“In the excitement of this important day, it became clear that when looking for a Tanakh, there’s never one too far away,” a spokeswoman said. “Gov. Polis was honored to be sworn in with a Tanach that truly represented the Jewish value of ‘Klal Yisrael Aravim Ze La Ze,’ each person is responsible for one another — the Jewish community lent a helping hand at this historic moment.”

The swearing-in reflected the firsts Polis brought to his home state: In addition to being its first Jewish governor, he is also its first openly gay governor. His Jewish husband, Marlon Reis, stood by his side, holding the Tanakh; Polis’s mother, a poet, Susan Polis Schutz, read poetry. Two local gay men’s choruses provided music, and Rabbi Tirzah Firestone of Congregation Neveh Kodesh delivered the benediction.

Also being sworn in were two Jewish Democrats who won reelection to statewide office: Phil Weiser, the attorney general, and Jena Griswold, the secretary of state.