Local | Shop Local

Growing Jewish presence supports Oro Valley businesses

Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman of Chabad of Tucson affixes the mezuzah at the grand opening of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona's Northwest office in October 2012. (Phyllis Braun)

The Town of Oro Valley is running two campaigns to bolster local spending and keep dollars in the community. The first, Shop Oro Valley Summer Campaign, which runs through July 3, is open to anyone who shops at an Oro Valley business and spends at least $25. Participants are then eligible to enter a weekly prize drawing sponsored by Oro Valley businesses by dropping off their receipts and entry form at the town’s administration building or submitting them on the town’s website. Purchases can be made at any Oro Valley business, including gas, groceries, retail and dining. Raffles are held on Fridays at 5 p.m.

The second is a special limited run of Oro Valley dollars. On June 1, the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce began selling limited runs of the OV dollar with a 10 percent bonus. For instance, if you purchase $100 worth of OV dollars, you receive $110 to use in debit card form at participating Oro Valley locations. There is a $500 maximum per person, and the Chamber will only sell $25,000 worth of OV dollars. The Chamber runs the OV dollars promotion twice annually, during the summer and the winter holidays.

Since 1990, the town has sextupled its population. At just under 35 square miles, Oro Valley is home to more than 41,000 residents. As Oro Valley grows, so does its Jewish community. Satish Hiremath, mayor of the town, encourages this development. “Shopping local not only helps to fund town services to residents, through sales tax generation, but it supports business owners and their families in our community,” says Hiremath. “We recognize that our community has growing diversity and this is having a positive impact on our local economy. Oro Valley continues to be a welcoming community in all aspects.”

Anticipating a growing Jewish presence, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona opened its Northwest Division office at the corner of Magee and Oracle Roads in Oro Valley in 2012, providing a space for a variety of activities, including Torah classes, mah jongg, a writer’s group, lectures, a sewing group and special events. Ruth Barwick, chair of the Federation’s all-volunteer Northwest Advisory Council, estimates there are approximately 5,000 Jewish households in the northwest, an area defined as including 11 zip codes in Marana, Oro Valley, Oracle, Saddlebrooke and beyond. “Because of the Federation’s efforts in the northwest, the Jewish presence is much more felt and appreciated,” says Barwick.

Chabad of Oro Valley is the only Jewish congregation with a permanent location in Oro Valley. This June will mark its fourth year of operation. Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman says of Oro Valley, “It is a community of transplants. Everyone who lives here has moved here from somewhere else since it’s the ‘new kid on the block’ relative to Tucson.” He sees his mission to grow the Jewish community there as essential. “I’m convinced there are at least 1,000 Jewish families in Oro Valley, not including Saddlebrooke or Marana. “Due to a lack of [Jewish] infrastructure, people don’t realize how many there are and assume they’re the only ones.” Chabad’s monthly Shabbat services attract between 30-45 attendees, and the group hosts larger events at the nearby Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort or the Oro Valley Country Club.

Area synagogues have continuing discussions about how to best reach Tucson’s Northwest Jews. Temple Emanu-El has partnered with a variety of venues, most recently St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, to offer a monthly Northwest Shabbat service and dinner. Temple Emanu El’s Rabbi Batsheva Appel leads these monthly events. “For many northwest residents, these monthly Temple events are where they go to observe Shabbat,” says Rabbi Appel. “It’s much more than a dinner, it’s very heimish [homey].” Mila Vasser, Temple’s program coordinator, says attendance tends to vary between 30-60 participants, with large crowd increases around the High Holy days, Chanukah and Passover. The Temple offers a popular free series of three weekly “Taste of Judaism” classes annually in the northwest, also.

The Institute for Judaic Studies and Services in Saddlebrooke also offers Shabbat services and dinners monthly, October-April, as well as classes and special events.

Sarah Chen is a freelance writer living in northwest Tucson with her husband, son and daughter.