Concierge, new website enhance local Jewish community outreach

Ori Parnaby
Ori Parnaby

This fall, Tucsonans will have two new ways to connect with the many programs and services offered by the Tucson Jewish community: a concierge service and a revamped, interactive jewishtucson.org community website.

Ori Parnaby, the concierge, started in her new position Sept. 2. Her office is at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, but she’ll have information on the entire community at her fingertips, to help match people with whatever they seek, based on their unique needs and interests, from synagogues and preschools to book clubs and quilting circles.

Over the last couple of years, “it became clear that we needed an ‘information central’ for the Jewish community,” says Liz Kanter Groskind, who, with Leslie Glaze, is co-chair of implementation for the strategic planning steering committee convened by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona in collaboration with the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and local synagogues and agencies.

Local research via focus groups, surveys and interviews all pointed to the need for a way to help people engage with the Jewish community, says Kanter Groskind. The strategic planning committee learned that several other cities had a Jewish communal concierge, “where you had the personal touch” to help people whether they were new in town or at a new stage in life, such as seeking care for an elderly parent.

Parnaby can help connect people so that newcomers won’t have to go to an event alone, not knowing anyone, adds Kanter Groskind. “There’ll be names and faces put together.

“Ori will be the first stop in making this entire Jewish community a really warm and welcoming and inclusive place, because she herself embodies everything we were looking for in this position,” she says.

Born in Israel, Parnaby was raised in Tucson but lived on a kibbutz for a few years after high school, where she met her husband, who is from England. She served in the Israel Defense Forces as assistant to the commander of a unit designed to educate soldiers who hadn’t finished high school. She returned to Tucson in 1992 with her husband, and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology (with a minor in Near Eastern studies) from the University of Arizona in 1995.

Parnaby, a mother of two, ran her own business as a professional organizer in Tucson. She already knows a good deal about the local Jewish community, having served in numerous volunteer and professional roles (the latter as coordinator of the Jewish Education Tax Credit Organization).  But she’ll also be spending time over the next several weeks meeting with rabbis and representatives of agencies and organizations to learn about their programs in more detail.

“Our Jewish community has so much to offer and yet not everyone can find their way,” says Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO. Along with the concierge to help people to do just that, the community will soon roll out a more attractive and user-friendly website, he says, complete with a smartphone app.

“We’re excited that our new Jewish Community Roundtable, which brings together all of our agency and synagogue partners, is giving oversight to the concierge and the website, so these are truly Jewish community projects,” says Mellan. “The Federation is moving this project forward with financial support from our Jewish Community Foundation.”

The new jewishtucson.org website should be launched sometime during the High Holiday season, says Beverly Sandock, the Federation’s associate for strategic planning implementation.

The site was created by Steve Schulman, CEO of High Clarity, based in San Diego. “He’s done similar projects for the San Diego Jewish community and he is an expert in Jewish engagement,” says Sandock.

Throughout the design process, he’s suggested numerous extensions and plug-ins to enhance the site , from quick surveys to kids’ games, she says, although the primary purpose is “to connect people to the vast number of existing programs that are out there. We have hundreds of programs.”

The site will include a calendar that can be filtered by a user’s interests, age group or Jewish denomination, and people can sign up to receive a newsletter by email or text with events relevant to them.

The Federation will also have its own website at www.jfsa.org.

Jewishtucson.org also will feature a con­cierge button that will appear when Parnaby is available for live chats. And it will serve as a tool for Parnaby and, in time, volunteers she’ll train to help provide concierge services.

The concierge office is located on the second floor of the JCC. Parnaby can be reached at 299-3000, ext. 241 or concierge@jewishtucson.org. While she may often be out at meetings in the next few weeks, she says, she’ll be checking her voice mail and email frequently and will respond to inquiries within 24 hours.

“What I love about this job is that I’m not asking anyone to do anything for me — I’m here to serve,” says Parnaby.