David Cutler wanted to do something special with his Catalina Foothills home after his wife, Felicia, passed away in 2009, so he approached Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz and his wife, Ada, about using the home as a synagogue.
Lewkowicz, director of Judaic studies at the Tucson Hebrew Academy, jumped at the chance to honor the late Mrs. Cutler. “Felicia Cutler was one of the first people we met when we came to Tucson,” Lewkowicz explains, “and she loved the city of Tucson and her Jewish community so dearly. This shul is an extension of who she was as a person, an extension of kindness, goodness and love.”
The synagogue’s formal name is the Foothills Shul at Bais Yael, or the synagogue in the home of Yael, Felicia’s Hebrew name. Informally, attendees refer to it as the Foothills Shul. It is located at 6222 E. Placita Aspecto.
Lewkowicz doesn’t classify the shul, which started in February, by denomination but notes that services are imbued with “Chasidic philosophy and spirit.”
“The most unique aspect of the Foothills Shul is that there is a feeling of being in a home atmosphere,” he says. “We use the Yiddish term ‘heimish’ to describe the feeling of being surrounded by family and friends in a cozy, warm home.”
Through word of mouth, the shul regularly has crowds of 30 or more at Friday night Shabbat services, which start at 7 p.m. The Shabbat program typically includes watching the sunset from the windowed great room before the Kabbalat Shabbat service with stories and insights from the weekly Torah reading. Kiddush follows the service.
An individualized children’s education program is offered on Sunday mornings. “Instead of using a prescribed curriculum, we determine the child’s specific interest in the Torah and connect them to it,” the rabbi explains.
A men’s Chasidic Kabbalah class meets Thursdays at 5 p.m.
There are no immediate plans for the shul’s growth or expansion but the shul will offer High Holy Day services. “The goal in the near and long term is simply to enjoy it as it is,” says Lewkowicz. “We have enjoyed it so tremendously, and we hope it will continue to welcome others with joy, warmth and inspiration.”
For more information, call 400-9626.
Sarah Chen is a freelance writer and blogger who lives with her husband and two children in Tucson.