In September 1992 when Rabbi Yossi Levertov founded Chabad of Scottsdale in a storefront at the corner of Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard, it was considered the north part of town. “A real desert,” Levertov says.
Eighteen years later, the corner is situated in the middle of Scottsdale, and Levertov has created a thriving Jewish community with a synagogue, Hebrew school, Jewish Learning Center, gift shop, kosher market, kosher restaurant and a mikvah for dishes.
What started out as a 700-square-foot space has now expanded to 10,000 square feet and the synagogue has grown from 10 families in 1992 to close to 600 people today.
Sunday evening, Dec. 12, the congregation will have an 18th anniversary celebration and gala dinner at Congregation Beth Israel. Congregants Leslie and Hazel Davis, Nathan and Eva Efune and Harris and Rena Weisman will be honored for their service to the Jewish community and to Chabad of Scottsdale, according to event chair Dara Shahon.
“We are celebrating the achievements of the past 18 years as well as the life and vibrancy of the Chabad of Scottsdale community,” Shahon wrote in an e-mail.
Levertov says of his arrival in Scottsdale, “It was a tough beginning.” He rented a 700-square-foot space sandwiched between a print shop and a lawnmower-repair shop. During the first Yom Kippur service, the next-door neighbors fired up the lawnmowers. “It was hard for our amateur cantor, but we managed,” he says.
By the next Yom Kippur, Chabad of Scottsdale moved to its current location in the same center. At the end of 1993, Chabad opened Scottsdale Judaica World gift shop, now called Mazel Tov Gifts. Levertov says there was a tremendous need for anything Jewish “on this side of town.”
The same year, Chabad of Scottsdale started a Hebrew school. The first class had four children and has since grown to about 75 students.
In 1999, Chabad expanded the synagogue and classroom, and added offices, a kitchen and a multi-purpose room, which is use for services, classes and events.
To better serve the needs of the growing community, in 2000, Chabad of Scottsdale opened the Scottsdale Kosher Market. “The closest kosher market was in Phoenix, about 14 miles away,” Levertov says.
Then, in 2003, Chabad opened the Scottsdale Cafe Deli & Grill. The restaurant features a variety of kosher fare, including deli sandwiches and chicken noodle soup, as well as Middle Eastern specialties, such as chicken shwarma and lamb kebabs.
“I found that one of the things holding people back on their Jewish journey was a lack of kosher foods. They had a hard time eating out,” Levertov says. “Even today, people stop me in the street and thank us for opening the eatery because it has made their Jewish experience so much richer.”
About four and a half years ago, the shul expanded the library and kitchen. The facility now has two kitchens, one for dairy and one for meat.
The latest addition, the mikvah for dishes, was built in 2007. “Again, people on this side of town had a hard time if they wanted to grow in their observance. So we opened a mikvah where you pull up five feet away, open your trunk, take out your dishes and you can fulfill that mitzvah very easily,” Levertov says.
Chabad of Scottsdale offers many classes and study groups for adults and children including Torah study, Talmud, Jewish law, Hebrew reading and Chasidic philosophy. Levertov, Rabbi Yossi Bryski and laypeople from the community teach the classes.
The synagogue also holds classes for the Jewish Learning Institute, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. Bryski teaches the six-week courses, which are held simultaneously with affiliates around the world.
Lois Ann Weksler has been a part of the synagogue since its inception. Her mother had recently died and she was looking for a place to say Kaddish. “Chabad was the place that met my needs,” she says. Now, she says the community is like family. “I have seen so many people come to Chabad and find the joy in Judaism.”
Shahon is one of those people. She came to Chabad three and a half years ago and says what she enjoys most is the warmth, joy and kindness that exists there. “I attribute the development of this environment to the work done by Rabbi Yossi (Levertov) and Rebbetzin Dina Levertov. They are incredibly giving and selfless, living their lives in a way that teaches perspective, love of your fellow as yourself, and infusing spirituality into everyday aspects of our lives,” Shahon wrote in an e-mail.
Nate Sachs, who came to Chabad of Scottsdale 15 years ago, when it was “a little storefront with a handful of Costco chairs and a couple of tables,” says the rabbi and rebbetzin welcomed him and his family into their home with open arms. Sachs was looking for more in his spiritual life and was drawn to Levertov.
“It’s a great place to be Jewish and to celebrate your Jewishness,” he says. “It’s very nonjudgmental. Everybody’s welcome and everyone can seek their own level of spirituality.”
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