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Arnie Zaler – 1949 -2023, Former Colorado Zionist Federation head, convicted felon dies ..

February 15, 2023

Arnie Zaler in better days

Arnold “Arnie” Zaler died a few days ago. A short – very short – obituary appeared on-line saying virtually nothing about him and his life. I wondered about that. After a fifteen years hiatus a number of people have found the blog posts about Arnie, whose life included being a leader of the University of Colorado’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the late 1960s to executive director of the Colorado Zionist Federation to several stinks in a federal penitentiaries.  Perhaps there will be more detailed obituaries that will appear in the local (or national) press.

In the past, I wrote a number of articles – blog pieces – of my “reminiscences” of Arnie which I will repost below. They were written at the time of his trial for fraud – his last trial that is – that resulted in his being sentenced to fifteen years in prison. I attended that trial as an observer. After that trial I lost track of him; nor have I made any effort to follow his broken life, and moved on. That said, I do think of him from time to time, mostly as a tragic, if not pathetic figure, but one all to common among post World War II Jews. And in spite of my negative feelings about him – detailed in the articles below, no need to go over them – I grew up in a similar milieu, if miles away in New York City and if not for certain accidents of my personal history, probably would have wound up not much different from him. I know that. Still …

Here are the old articles:

February 22, 2009 – Arnie’s Saga

February 23, 2009 – Arnie’s Saga – 2

March 1, 2009 – Human Rights Consequences of the Gaza Invasion; Arnie’s Saga Continues

November 7, 2009 – Arnie Zaler, Former Executive Director of the Colorado Zionist Federation Sentenced to Fifteen Years in a Federal Penitentiary for Wire and Mail Fraud 

I reprint the last two paragraphs if the November 7, 2009 piece – sums up my thinking on Zaler.

“It’s embarrassing to Denver’s Jewish Community to have produced such graceless con artist and then to have been taken by him, not once, but repeatedly. Still, Zaler was not much different from a generation of young Denver professionals of the late 1960s and 1970s who were `on the move’, bright, bold and a little too `hungry’ to make it. A friend put it aptly and succinctly: “Zaler wasn’t much different than many others; only he got caught, probably because he didn’t do it on a large enough scale and wasn’t smooth enough” and I would add, that he hadn’t manage to become wealthy enough to buy the political influence necessary to get him off the hook as some others had.

Lacking that backing, Arnie Zaler got nailed big-time for his pathetic scams. Others using more or less the same methods, have gotten away with a lot more. In a certain sense, Arnie was trying to be like his buddies; to use progressive credentials of his youth as a spring board to wealth and power. Much has been made about how he milked and betrayed Denver’s Jewish Community, abused their trust and ruined lives by destroying their assets. This is of course true. The ones he broke, left financial and emotionally broken, were not so much his more wealthy ones, but middle and working class Jews, those who lost their retirement, in some cases their homes. They don’t have another ten million to fall back on.

Many of the people at the trial yesterday seemed to know each other; they formed a bond of solidarity with each other: Zaler’s victims. One of those in attendance, in response to a question, referred to me as `oh, he’s one of them who knew Arnie when he did his SDS shit back in the 60s’. That is, even if inelegantly put, essentially correct. I did know him when he `did his SDS shit’ – possibly the only time in his life he was concerned with the world beyond Arnie Zaler. These past years, it is not only Denver and Phoenix’s Jewish communities that Zaler betrayed. He also forgot the values of the 1960s student movement he was a part of – for an economically fairer world with more social justice.. Arnie lost his way along time ago. And he never came back, did he?

Who says there is no justice?”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. rgreenepullman permalink
    February 15, 2023 11:34 am

    Thanks rob for posting this info on Arnie Zaler. I just feel sad, even tho Arnie wasn’t a friend. Did you have much interaction with him and why would he become an embezzler and harm the people he was working for? Any Ideas? I’m still slowly working on a Boulder SDS history. Any thing you’d like to see in it? or remembered? Hope all is well Bobby Greene

    • February 15, 2023 11:44 am

      Too long an answer for a simple reply Bobby. If you want more suggest a phone call or a zoom … If you read the links provided there is some information on “our relationship” ,,, there was considerable “internacton” I guess you can call it that – and it is for that reason that I write about him. Look forward to your history of Boulder SDS … certainly deserves attention from activists today … so many lessons there.

  2. Jay Jurie permalink
    February 15, 2023 11:59 am

    I knew Arnie Zaler, most specifically in the Fall of 1969, when he was a Boulder SDS chapter leader, as Rob has mentioned. I saw him a couple times after that, and mostly remember one occasion in the mid-1970s when he was working as a staffer on one of Gary Hart’s US Senate campaigns. He had set up a table at what was then the CU Denver campus main building. I sat with him for an hour or so, and we chatted amicably about past and present.

    I remember him as affable, good-natured, out-going, and rather charming, although lacking some of the and analytical acuity I associated with other SDS leaders. I was chagrined to learn some years later, I think possibly through Rob, that he had become a grifter. It was likely some of his personal attributes that contributed to an ability to get over on people. After he was sent to prison I made a couple efforts to contact him, partly out of a sense that incarcerated people sometimes appreciate having contact with those outside the walls. But I never heard anything back.

    I always liked the guy and look back on his life as one of shining possibility that sadly fell short into wasted potential. His memory will always occupy a soft spot in my heart.

  3. William Watts permalink
    February 15, 2023 1:57 pm

    Read the entire thing — interesting.

    On Wednesday, February 15, 2023, View from the Left Bank: Rob Prince’s Blog

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