By Tzipora Reitman – JewishAZ.com
Construction is close to wrapping up on the 12,500-square-foot Molly Blank Jewish Community Center in Flagstaff — the first JCC in Northern Arizona’s largest city.
Situated on a hill overlooking Flagstaff and Northern Arizona University (NAU), the complex will house a synagogue, meditation terrace, sukkah plaza, social hall, gourmet kosher kitchen, library, offices, mikvah, classrooms and guest suites. It is scheduled to open this spring.
“It’s more spectacular than we ever imagined,” said Mike and Carmen Blank as they toured the construction site. The center will be dedicated in memory of Mike’s mother.
The building falls under the auspices of Chabad of Flagstaff. The city has never had a purpose-built synagogue or Jewish community center.
Back at the construction site, Rabbi Dovie Shapiro, who founded Chabad of Flagstaff together with his wife, Chaya, in 2006, pointed to the various cement and steel hints of what is to come. In the expansive area that has been framed for the synagogue sanctuary, he told visitors to look closely at the eastern wall.
“You can already see the magnificent ark taking shape,” he said.
Moving toward another area, he pointed to a cement depression. “This is the cradle of the mikvah, which is going to be spa-like and just gorgeous,” Shapiro added.
The rabbi reported that benefactors have contributed $5.5 million to the project, with only 10 of the 40 dedication opportunities remaining, including the sanctuary, children’s playground, gourmet kosher kitchen and classrooms.
Funding for the two-acre property on which the center is being built was donated by George and Pamela Rohr, who saw the potential for major growth of Jewish life at NAU and Flagstaff at large. The city welcomes more than 5 million visitors annually. A matching campaign championed by the Blanks through the Molly Blank Fund helped the community secure the money and momentum needed to make the center a reality.
The facility was designed by acclaimed architect Jim Shelton to incorporate many outdoor spaces and an interior flooded with natural light. The rooms are designed to seamlessly flow from the surrounding nature. The complex was carefully planned to eliminate as few trees as possible, notably the majestic Ponderosa pines that populate the property.
Shelton’s work was complemented by the colors and textures provided by award-winning interior designer Mary Bledsoe of Gensler in Austin, Texas, who embraced the local sensitivities and aesthetics. The construction is being managed by Jewish community members David and Jennifer Carpenter of Hope Construction.
Once completed, the center is expected to become a local landmark and an attraction for tourists, visitors and second-home owners.
“The Molly Blank Jewish Community Center will surely be a stunning edifice,” Shapiro said. “But the real beauty of the center is the vibrant Jewish life that will thrive within it for generations to come.”
The ample facility will allow Chabad to accommodate a growing Jewish community in Flagstaff, including the ever-increasing Jewish student population at NAU. The new center will be a home-away-from-home for children, teens, young Jewish professionals, families, seniors and Chabad of Flagstaff’s popular summer camp — Camp Canyon – Jewish Outdoor Adventures. The center also will have bunk rooms where participants of camps traveling to the Flagstaff area can sleep.
The Merrill and Rhoda Abeshaus Social Hall and adjacent gourmet kosher kitchen will offer an ideal venue for bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and other life cycle events.
“Judaism is growing in Flagstaff in ways no one ever imagined. People are increasing their involvement and support, and an amazing community is blossoming,” Shapiro said. “This center is an indicator of how far we have come as a community, and sets a high bar for how much more we can accomplish.”