People who live on the northwest side have long lacked access to a local synagogue or even any Jewish-related events.
That changed in 2006 when the Northwest Jewish Connections program was founded, funded by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.
“The Jewish Federation issued the compelling-needs grant to get the people in the northwest into a Jewish community and to let them know that they weren’t forgotten,” said Anne Lowe, who coordinated the connections program. As it grew, the Jewish Federation Northwest Division came into existence, and Lowe now directs the division.
In 2012, six years after the Northwest Jewish Connections program began, members held a meeting and decided their top priority was to get their own facility. After only six months, they accomplished that goal, renting space at 190 W. Magee Road, Suite 162.
The facility hosts book clubs, gentle chair exercise classes and Torah studies, among other things.
“When we first opened our doors a woman came in here with tears in her eyes and she told me, ‘I don’t remember ever seeing the name ‘Jewish’ on a door before in Oro Valley,’ and she had lived here 43 years,” Lowe said. “It meant a lot to her that there was a place where she knew there would be others of her religion.”
Arlene Brody has lived in Oro Valley for 18 years and for many of them had to travel 45 minutes each way to attend any Jewish-related events. She began volunteering at the Jewish Federation Northwest facility when it opened.
“It felt great to know they were finally starting to recognize the Jewish people in the northwest,” she said.
The synagogue Brody belongs to is on Tucson’s east side, so she still must travel to get there. Now, though, she can also go to the closer facility for different kinds of Jewish events.
“The Jewish people in the northwest have been ignored for many years because everything Jewish went on in the east side,” she said. “I think (the division) is the best thing that’s ever happened for us in this area.”
Helene Mittleman, program chair for the northwest division, said it is a means for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona to reach out to people on the northwest side.
“It’s a way for the federation to say we know you’re there — it may have taken us a while to reach out to you, but we know you’re there,” she said. “And we want to provide an opportunity for you to meet together without going into the city all the time.”
To spread the word about the Jewish Federation Northwest and raise money for rent and operating costs, it’s holding a fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 (see If you go box) featuring its major benefactor, Irving Olson, who will be celebrating his 100th birthday.
Mittleman says she hopes that as the Jewish community on the northwest side grows, the facility will grow as well.
“People come from other places in town because they love our activities.
It’s not a geographic thing. It’s how you feel about being somewhere,” Lowe said. “And we want people to feel welcome no matter what their ethnic or religious background is.”