Green Valley congregation looks to expand programs, services

Steve Levine
Steve Levine

The Beth Shalom Temple Center, Green Valley’s self-proclaimed “reconformadox” Jewish congregation, recently hired its first membership coordinator. Steve Levine was attracted to his new position for professional and personal reasons, and began his new job in September.

“The Jewish community has been very good to me over the years, and it’s fitting that I take some of my skills and expertise that I have developed through a professional career and give something back,” he says.

Mike Finkelstein, former board president at Beth Shalom Temple Center, says during a monthly meeting about two years ago, the Temple Center board started to discuss how they can grow the congregation membership. Finkelstein decided to create an ad hoc committee that would devise strategies to strengthen the congregation as well as expand services. The board eventually asked him to spearhead this expansion effort.

Finkelstein moved to Green Valley for work in 1995, the year the Temple Center opened its doors. He joined the local congregation shortly after relocating and “established a network of friends who really became family.”

“It’s meant a lot,” he says. “The spirit and the welcoming nature of the temple is something that we want to continue to pursue, and be as welcoming as we can to new people coming into our midst.”

The Temple Center serves as more than just a synagogue, he says. Despite limited resources the congregation offers Shabbat and High Holiday services, funeral or memorial services, educational and social programs and a theatrical group. Since its humble beginnings, the Temple Center has provided these services on a volunteer basis.

“That’s why active membership is such a vital part of the success in continuation of this temple,” he says.

To attract the growing population in Sahuarita, which consists of younger families compared to Green Valley’s retired professionals, the Temple Center may offer bar and bat mitzvah lessons, Hebrew lessons or Sunday school classes.

Local families interested in programs for children are limited unless they travel to Tucson, he says, but for now the congregation is in the planning stage.

Finkelstein says the Temple Center received invaluable help from two senior members of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona: President  & CEO Stuart Mellan and Vice President of Planning & Marketing Barry Weisband.

The Temple Center was awarded a Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona Ida and J. Patricia Brodsky Memorial Endowment Fund grant for $5,000. Along with the generous contributions of local members, this allowed the congregation to create the part-time membership coordinator position.

When the Temple Center created the position, Levine was looking for this type of work, so the timing was bashert, or meant to be, says Finkelstein.

Levine worked at the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 1977 to 1981, and was responsible for coordinating federal assistance to national disaster sites, “which was a very rewarding experience,” he says. He continued assisting FEMA on a contractual basis throughout his professional career, and ended his tenure with the organization in 2008.

He served as executive vice president of the National Association of Environmental Risk Auditors, where he advocated environmental awareness and activism in the real estate industry and beyond.

He also owned a real estate appraisal and consulting company that specialized in litigation support and expert witness testimony.

Levine purchased his home in Green Valley with his late wife, Karen, in early 2015. At the time, the couple was staying in Tucson and visiting Tubac for an arts festival. During one of their many commutes, they stopped in Green Valley, liked it, and purchased a home, he says.

After losing his partner of more than 24 years on Nov. 29, 2015, Levine was feeling isolated, so taking on his new position at the Temple Center felt like an important step.

“It’s refreshing to branch out and do meaningful things again,” he says.

Levine earned a Bachelor of Arts with honors in political science from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio. He completed some graduate work at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., but his professional involvement with FEMA became more important “and [I] just never looked back,” he says.

In his new role he looks forward to bolstering the Temple Center’s secular community partnerships and expanding its inviting legacy.