Chabad of Arizona Reaches Out . . . To Everyone

Chabad of Arizona Reaches Out . . . To Everyone

Volunteers of Chabad of North Phoenix Friendship Circle. (

by EJ Tansky - Glendale, AZ

February 3, 2008

( Hotel rooms in Glendale, AZ, have been booked for months. Superbowl madness is running high in the Arizona town that’s home to the big game. Tens of thousands of fans have flocked to town, and among them were Jewish people with unusual requests – at least to NFL ears.

“Where can I find kosher food?”

“Is there a prayer service in the stadium? I need to say kaddish.”

“Is my a hotel near a synagogue?”

That’s when NFL coordinators called Rabbi Sholom Lew, director of Chabad of the West Valley in Glendale. As a Brit unfamiliar with the American day of worship known as “Superbowl” whose wife and co-director Chana Lew brought a baby boy into the world last week, Rabbi Lew scrambled to get his playbook ready for the crowds.

Rabbi Zalman Levertov who first brought Chabad to Arizona 31 years ago has decades of experience accommodating tourists in the Grand Canyon State. “We try to help visitors them arrange places for Shabbos and try to make them feel comfortable and welcome in our community.”

Though the world’s eyes focused on 100 yards of Arizonan turf, touched down on a wider swath of the state for an update on Chabad activities there.

Abby Silberman, a Masters of Accounting student at University of Arizona in Tuscon, played touch football with some friends before the game and wore her “Everybody Loves Jewish Wildcats” t-shirt. Rabbi Yossi and Noami Winner, directors of Chabad at the University of Arizona, printed up a batch of the shirts that reference the school’s mascot. It’s changed the way Jewish students acknowledge each other on campus.

“You’ll see someone wearing the shirt on campus and say, ‘oh, I remember him from Shabbos dinner,’” said Silberman.

Recognizing people by t-shirt rather than by face is a by-product of Chabad’s enormous growth. Only on campus for three years, Chabad’s Shabbat dinners attract hundreds. “There are people standing at the counter, but they don’t mind. It’s so great to be there,” said Silberman. The Winners set their Passover Seder tables for 300. Before finals, they invite students over for a brain food breakfast. “They have their finger on what we really need,” Silberman said.

Chabad at UA’s boom is echoed at Arizona State University. The Rohr Family dedicated a new student center in a vast adobe building in Tempe. “The joke is that our old Chabad house could fit into the great room of the new center,” said Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel.

With the extra room, the Tiechtels have added Paths and Pasta, a new class dedicated to the finer points of Jewish ethics and starchy eats, to their roster of Jewish classes and activities. “We are growing and growing, but however many take part in our programs, every individual is an important part of the Chabad family.”  

Simply stepping foot into a Chabad synagogue is now a lot more comfortable in Phoenix. Rabbi Moshe and Sashie Levertov host beginner’s Shabbat services. Begun in November, the monthly “First Fridays” are attracting an eclectic group to Chabad of Arizona’s headquarters in Phoenix. Singles, families with young children, empty nesters, and more than a few people who’ve been receiving Chabad’s mailings for years, but never felt comfortable showing up, come for the casual atmosphere where translations and explanations are part of the service.

“Rabbi Moshe stands where everyone can see him and feel included in the service,” said Leslie Levy of Scottsdale, AZ. “There’s a chance to ask questions you never had a chance to ask.”

Attendance at First Friday has filled the cozy library where services are held. “We may need a bigger space, but we don’t want to lose the casual, close knit feeling,” said Rabbi Moshe Levertov.

Student numbers climbed at the Aleph Bet preschool, too. With 41 children, the school is full to capacity for this year. “We want to start programs that address the needs of the entire family, older and younger siblings, parents,” said Rabbi Moshe Levertov.

Greater Phoenix consistently ranks at the top of fastest growing cities in the USA. Arizona’s vast spaces allow new residents to stretch out. “The city I grew up in with my parents during the early days of their Chabad outreach here is not the city that’s here today,” said Rabbi Moshe Levertov. “It’s a very spread out city, there’s a lot of land, and no central  Jewish area.”

Environmentalists rail against Phoenix’s sprawl. Chabad adjusts to it. In North Phoenix, Chabad’s new Friendship Circle is thriving. Three years ago, Chabad opened in Anthem, a planned community 30 miles outside of Phoenix proper.  Centers in Chandler and Scottsdale are well established as are those in Flagstaff and Tuscon.

In Arizona, Chabad is winning one for the home team.

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