After decades of putting the needs of other Jewish community agencies first, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona is ready to break ground on a new home of its own. The new 18,000 square foot building, which will house the Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, will be situated in what is now the dirt parking area of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, just off River Road.
JFSA President and CEO Stuart Mellan remembers that 21 years ago, in his first month at Federation, a board member asked him about a new building.
As time went on and the Foundation outgrew the Federation’s current facility, moving off the Jewish community campus, “that increased the aspiration to have a new facility that could put us back together again, since we work so closely with the Foundation,” he says.
Nationally, it’s a growing trend to house a Jewish community’s Federation and Foundation under one roof, says Tom Warne, chair of the JFSA board.
“It definitely provides for better fiscal, financial health for the Jewish community,” says Warne.
Other incentives for a new building include the need for more robust security measures and additional meeting and work space, says Mellan, who notes that as part of the construction, 120 new paved parking spaces will be created.
The plans for the new building include a social hall about the size of the Tucson J’s Heritage Room that will open onto a patio, making Federation “able to facilitate more community events — not just Jewish, but overall,” says Warne, who adds that this will also free up space for the J to host more community-wide events, “so it will have a positive effect on the overall Tucson community.”
The J will handle all aspects of renting the social hall, including catering arrangements.
In 2007, Mellan recalls, “we had actually put together a plan for a Jewish community-wide capital campaign, which would have included projects at Handmaker, the JCC, Hillel and this new Federation/Foundation building. But when the economy tanked in 2008, we realized that plan was no longer viable and we decided to phase in these projects.”
In the years since, there have been successful capital projects at Handmaker, the J, Hillel and the Jewish History Museum.
Funding the project
After Deanna Evenchik’s husband, Harvey, died five years ago, she told Mellan that Harvey had wanted to make a lead gift to a JFSA building fund.
“I’ve been involved with Federation for almost 20 years” as a volunteer in a variety of roles, including chair of the 2005 campaign, she says, and while her husband had been supportive of her efforts, he was too busy with work to be much involved himself.
In 2005, however, Harvey asked to join Evenchik and Marlyne Freedman, then JFSA senior vice president for campaign, on the Jewish Federations of North America campaign chairs and directors mission to Tbilisi, Georgia and Israel.
“In Tbilisi, it was really quite emotional,” she told the AJP. While she and Freedman toured the Jewish Community Center, seeing how Federation dollars were spent — which included small weekly food packets for the elderly — Harvey was asked to join a prayer minyan and was given a white kippah to wear.
In Israel, they saw the support JFSA provides in our partner city, Kiryat Malachi, including programs for Ethiopian immigrants.
On their return, Harvey told his wife the trip “opened my eyes and changed my world,” Evenchik recalls.
When he became ill, he told her he wanted to make the dream of a new building for the Federation and Foundation a reality.
He said, “If you can see that come to fruition, that would make me very happy and very fulfilled as a Jewish person.”
And every year after that trip, he wore that white kippah from Tbilisi on the High Holy Days, Evenchik remembers.
The new building will be called the Harvey and Deanna Evenchik Center for Jewish Philanthropy, says Mellan.
Along with the Evenchiks’ gift, the Diamond family — Joan and Donald Diamond and their daughter, Helaine Levy — made a major commitment to the project, as did the Pozez siblings, Mitch, Shelley, Melanie and Bill, in memory of their parents, Shaol and Evie, “who were such iconic leaders in our Jewish community,” says Mellan.
The estimated cost of the building will be finalized in the next couple of months, says Mellan, but should be around $4.5 million. Donors have been generous and JFSA has commitments for about 75 percent of that sum, he says. Those who give $1,000 or more will be honored with brick pavers on a walkway that will go around the parking area, connecting the new building to the J. A donor installation in the lobby will recognize those who contribute $2,500 or more.
Fundraising will be part of the Federation’s 70th anniversary campaign, says Mellan.
Making it special
The architect for the project, Frank Mascia of CDG Architects, says his firm wanted to make sure the Federation/Foundation building didn’t become just another office building.
“We wanted something more. We were trying to find a touchstone, if you will, to the Jewish community,” he says, “something respectful, something not trite, something that hadn’t been done before.”
Mascia was still searching for inspiration when his wife took him to see the documentary “Raise the Roof,” about the reconstruction of one of the lost wooden synagogues of Poland. Toward the end of the film, a short sequence explains that the synagogue’s unusual roofline and its lavish decorations were inspired by Persian tents.
It hit Mascia that here was the perfect inspiration for the new building’s entrance. “We could make it this welcoming center for the Jewish community in Southern Arizona,” he says. “The tent’s a perfect analogy.”
Not being Jewish, Mascia wanted to make sure his idea was sound, so he called a friend, Mel Cohen, who reassured him and read him a passage from the Bible about Abraham and Sarah welcoming strangers to their tent.
The new building’s lobby will have a high ceiling that will echo the shape of the tent. “That whole culture of welcoming people in … it’s such a positive message,” he says.
A small groundbreaking ceremony will be held in early December, with a larger celebration once the building is complete. If all goes as planned, says Mellan, the Federation and Foundation will move into the building in late July 2017.