Local | Religion & Jewish Life

With traveling ark, Chaverim carries Torah’s message of peace

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron leads Congregation Chaverim's Rosh Hashanah service on Mount Lemmon on Sept. 21. (Nanci Freedberg)

Congregation Chaverim has a new traveling ark, thanks to a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona in collaboration with the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.

The $5,000 grant, made possible by the Ann and Sam Goldfein Endowment Fund and the Zuckerman Family Fund held at the JCF, will allow the congregation to hold services in a range of indoor and outdoor venues.

“We are so very excited about sharing our beautiful ark and celebrating our Judaism with Jewish communities throughout Southern Arizona,” says Andrea Crane, a Chaverim board member.

The traveling ark will be used not only for Chaverim’s annual Rosh Hashanah service on Mount Lemmon, but for a variety of “Shabbat Under the Stars” services, including one held last month in Bisbee and one coming up on Friday, Nov. 17 p.m. at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, and “Blue Sky Shabbat” services, including one planned for Sabino Canyon on Saturday, Dec. 9 at 9:30 a.m. A “Shabbat at the Museum” service will be held on the patio of the Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 26, the eve of the global Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“I call this entire process ‘we carry the ark,’” says Rabbi Stephanie Aaron. “Like our ancestors before us, we have the opportunity to carry the ark, to carry the Torah, not just in the midbar, the desert, the wilderness, but out into our town, our Tucson. We have the sacred opportunity to bring Torah, all whose paths are peace, out into the community.  The ark, carrying the Torah within, brings a message of loving kindness, justice, and peace to counter, to stand firm against hatred and violence, bigotry and injustice.”

Nanci Freedberg, a longtime member of Chaverim who prepared the grant proposal, told the AJP that after more than 40 years of services on Mount Lemmon and elsewhere, the congregation’s former ark had become unstable. “The ark was literally falling apart,” she says.

“When the Jewish Community Foundation offered a grant program, I thought this would be kind of a perfect thing, a tangible item, a piece of Judaica that can be shared in the community and have a practical use,” she says.

Having a local craftsperson create a custom piece would be too costly, so Freedberg arranged to purchase the ark from Bass Synagogue Furniture, an Israeli company that gave Chaverim a discount so it could stay within its budget. The ark is built of solid African walnut and features hand carving and inlaid glass representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Freedberg contributed a flat dolly to help transport and protect the ark.

Robyn Schwager, a JCF grants and legacy officer, attended Chaverim’s dedication ceremony for the ark on Sept. 8.

“This is the second year that the JCF and JFSA have granted funds to synagogues and we’re proud to serve the community in this way,” says Schwager. “The money set aside specifically for synagogues is a wonderful opportunity for them to participate in the community grants process.”