By The Arizona Republic
A young rabbi who has studied Orthodox Judaism around the world has founded Gilbert’s first synagogue.
Rabbi Moshe Leeds and his wife started offering Jewish services in their Ashland Ranch home in September after moving to Gilbert from Tempe, where Leeds worked at a Jewish center at Arizona State University.
“Part of growing up in Chabad is to go and reach to other Jews in need,” said Leeds, the father of an 18-month-old son. “We both wanted to dedicate our lives to going out and helping others.”
Chabad is a major branch of Hasidic Judaisim.
Leeds, 25, studied in Israel, Moscow and Cincinnati. He settled in Brooklyn before moving to Tempe in 2006, when he was offered a position at Chabad at ASU.
Then he and his wife, Nechama Dina, started researching other Valley cities where they could extend their work.
While Chandler has a large Jewish center, Chabad of the East Valley, Jewish residents of Gilbert until now had no place to worship locally.
The couple immediately liked Gilbert for its family-friendly nature.
“We’ve felt very welcome here,” Leeds said. “The people we’re in contact with are happy we are here.”
Leeds estimates there are between 2,000 and 3,000 Jews in Gilbert. He’s reaching out mostly through word of mouth and mailings, but also hosts an informational Web site: www.jewishgilbert.com
Donning a long beard and a kippah, a rounded skullcap, Leeds said he usually attracts curious people who ask about his religion. It’s a form of attention he embraces, using the opportunity to explain his beliefs.
“I think people definitely remember me more than they remember other people with the way I look,” he said.
But even though he’s proud of his religion, Leeds said he is not looking to convert anybody. Instead, Chabad of Gilbert is a place for Jews to worship, build strong relationships and serve the community.
“We’re here to reach out to the whole community of Gilbert and improve it any way we can,” Leeds said. “What we offer here is a nonjudgmental, warm environment for Jews to experience their heritage.”
So far, about 25 Jews have attended the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Leeds said he also offers classes and counseling throughout the week.
Leeds plans on making Gilbert his permanent home. His ultimate hope is to build a Jewish center in Gilbert.
For now, Leeds is focusing on weekly Sabbath services, which take place on Fridays. The family is also planning a dinner celebration of Chanukah.
+ New Shluchim to Arizona