Beth Shalom Temple Center of Green Valley will host a weekend of events with Rabbi Norman T. Roman, Nov. 2-4.
Roman has been the rabbi emeritus at Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, Michigan, since 2016, after serving as senior rabbi for 30 years.
The weekend marks a significant step for the Green Valley synagogue, where members recently voted to begin the search for a part-time rabbi.
The lay-led, non-denominational congregation had its beginnings in 1981 as the Jewish Friendship Club of Green Valley, and has occupied the building at 1751 N. Rio Mayo since 1995.
Ruthann Shapiro, chair of the search committee, explains that some BSTC members are seeking a rabbi for the pastoral duties clergy can provide, such as end-of-life counseling and grief counseling.
“Also a lot of our newer members want more services. They really want to expand what the temple is able to provide with strictly lay leadership,” she says. Currently, BSTC holds Shabbat services on the first and third Fridays each month, with Torah study every Saturday. It also offers other religious, social, cultural and educational programs.
BSTC has greatly expanded its membership over the last two years, says board president Merle Sobol.
After a few years of declining numbers, “in the last two years we’ve picked up 60-plus members,” Sobol says. “On the High Holidays, we tripled our attendance from the year before. So we really have a growth pattern going now.”
Current BSTC membership is around 160, Sobol says.
Sobol, who has been president for the past two years and also served as president four years ago, says BSTC is flexible in its approach to seeking a spiritual leader, who could be a cantor or a rabbi.
For now, the search process is by word-of-mouth, Shapiro says. Roman was recommended by two BSTC members who were part of his Michigan congregation.
“We’re trying to find somebody who is retired from another congregation and wants to enjoy the beauty of Southern Arizona,” Shapiro says, emphasizing that since it would be a part-time position, there’d be plenty of time for other pursuits.
“Rabbi Roman is coming down here as much to look at our community and see how we operate,” Shapiro says. “We’re hoping, maybe, this will be the beginning of something.”
Events for the weekend will begin with Roman leading Friday night Shabbat services at 7 p.m., with musical accompaniment by Tamara Kahrimanis, followed by an oneg Shabbat.
Roman, who will be visiting Green Valley with his wife, Lynne, told the AJP he hasn’t settled on a sermon topic. He will urge everyone to vote, he says, but otherwise he avoids talking politics from the bimah.
On Saturday, Nov. 3, the rabbi will lead the 10 a.m. Torah study. At noon, he will conduct a blessing ceremony to officially open BSTC’s labyrinth. A light Kiddush lunch will follow.
On Sunday, Nov. 4, members and guests will have an opportunity to chat with the rabbi before the 10 a.m. bagel breakfast, which will be complimentary. RSVPs are requested by Oct. 30 for the Saturday lunch and Sunday breakfast, at 648-6690 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The labyrinth was conceived and designed by BSTC member Lenny Friedman, a retired schoolteacher from Oregon.
Friedman says the first time he visited a labyrinth he took his eighth-grade students, who were about to transition from middle school to high school.
“The results were astounding. Students were really affected by it,” he says, recalling one student who said it was the first time he could remember not feeling the pressure of his peers or teachers or parents.
Friedman went on to build a labyrinth at his home in Oregon.
“I would walk it often. It was an opportunity to express my appreciation for different aspects of what I’d been doing in my life, for prayer, for healing, for breaking down obstacles, and just relaxation,” he says.
He’s also built a public labyrinth at Green Valley’s Desert Meadows Park.
Walking a labyrinth can help people deal with grief or health issues, or find direction in their lives, he says, noting that there is no wrong way to walk a labyrinth.
Friedman designed the synagogue’s 28-foot diameter labyrinth with seven single-stone walls, which relates to the seven times the Jews circled the walls of Jericho. The paths are two feet wide, he notes, and are lit at night with solar lights.
The BSTC labyrinth will have a centerpiece, a 4-foot diameter concrete circle with a design by local artist Faigee Niebow, a member of the congregation. It will be etched and painted by Jim Petty, co-owner of Stone House of Tubac.
It will be the first labyrinth blessing for the rabbi. “I’ve blessed the fleet, I’ve blessed people’s pets,” but never a labyrinth, Roman says. “Even aver 45 years in the rabbinate, there’s still something new.”
Sobol explains that if Roman were to join BSTC as a spiritual leader, it would not be until 2020, as he is committed elsewhere for the High Holidays in 2019. Sara and Michael Mussman, who often lead holiday services at BSTC, have committed to do so for the 2019 High Holidays at BSTC.
If it doesn’t work out for Roman to work with BSTC, “he has said he will help us get in touch with other retired rabbis. We found out through him that there is an association of retired rabbis,” Shapiro says.
Baby boomers like Shapiro are moving to Green Valley specifically because there is a temple, she says. “That’s one of the criteria, so we want it to grow some more.”
The congregation is sending out hundreds of flyers about the weekend to Jewish families in Green Valley and Sierra Vista, Sobol says, and he expects to add another 15-20 members as a result.
In fact, BSTC may have to think about expanding its facility, he says. “But that’s one of the good sides of what’s happening now. We’ve never had crowds like we’ve had the last two years.”