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JFSA’s new Olson Center open in Northwest

(L-R) Todd Rockoff, Tucson Jewish Community Center president and CEO; Fran Katz, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona senior vice president; Phyllis Gold, director of the Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life; Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO; and Nancy Mellan at the Olson Center opening brunch, Oct. 27. (JFSA)

The Oct. 27 dedication for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life in the Northwest received high marks from approximately 100 attendees at the brunch and open house event, says Alan Kendal, Olson Center advisory committee chair. By that day, the center’s Next Step Campaign to support the visionary expansion had reached 70% of its $10,000 target for this year.

The center’s new 2,500 square foot facility at 180 W. Magee Road, Suite 140, leased for five to seven years, is double the space of its former location in the same plaza, accommodating up to 100 people. It includes an office, kitchen, and event and activity spaces, with enhanced security and technology, configured to ADA-compliant specifications.

During October, the initial Next Step Campaign efforts encompassed an anonymous $10,000 matching grant, parlor meetings, direct donations, and “shower gifts” sold at the dedication event. The shower gifts for $18 and up will provide supplies and items needed at the center. Shower gifts remain available for donation/purchase through the coming weeks, Kendal explains. Most pledged donations were for at least $500 or more, qualifying for matching funds, of which $30,000 were committed by the Oct. 27 deadline, Kendal says. “We hope to wrap up the overall campaign down the road with further matching grant campaigns in a couple of years,” he adds. The overall Next Step goal is a five-year, $100,000 target.

An invocation and motzi (blessing over bread) by Rabbi Sandy Seltzer preceded the brunch. Seltzer says the event fulfilled the definition of a mitzvah. Olson Center Director Phyllis Gold delivered an opening welcome. Todd Rockoff, Tucson Jewish Community Center CEO and president, spoke to attendees to emphasize the J’s interest in delivering additional programming to the Northwest with the expanded facility now in place. JFSA CEO and President Stuart Mellan further elaborated on the Next Step Campaign.

Mellan noted that as the Northwest became a main population growth center in greater Tucson over the past decade, JFSA has supported Jewish community activities, prioritizing young families since last year. The center’s volunteer council of 12 Northwest residents guided the expansion project.

“The goal is to meet the many and growing needs of Jewish individuals and families of all ages for social, educational, cultural, and spiritual activities within a Jewish environment,” Mellan says. The center engages thousands of individuals annually through weekly and monthly activities, community events, annual dinners with entertainment, and Jewish interest symposiums. The center’s pastoral services extend to local hospitals, senior living facilities, and home visits to provide bereavement and illness support, Jewish activities, and seders. Community partners join JFSA in providing services and activities for children and young families.

“Some people at the open house said they stopped coming to events as the old facility was dreadfully overcrowded,” Kendal says. “But, seeing the new space, they say they will start coming again. Some new residents were ‘walk-ins’ who were amazed to learn what is going on and plan to get involved. It seems to me many people have become motivated to support the place to thrive as a Jewish center. From my perspective, the event was ‘proof of concept’ of design layout.”

To make a donation or pledge to the Next Step campaign, visit Many persons over 70 years of age can fulfill pledges in a tax-advantageous way by directing funds from an IRA. Next Step funds are invested by the Jewish Community Foundation and will be used as needed over the coming years for the Olson Center for Jewish Life.