Synagogues are few and far between in much of the Valley
Synagogues are few and far between in wide swaths of the Valley, leaving Jews in much of the Phoenix area with limited options and long drives if they want to attend services.
The big picture: Most of the Valley's synagogues are clustered in Scottsdale and neighboring areas of north Phoenix.
- That dearth of congregations outside those areas is even more pronounced when it comes to reform synagogues, which are extremely sparse west of State Route 51.
- There's also an abundance of conservative and orthodox congregations in central Phoenix, in the area of Seventh Street and Glendale Road, and small orthodox Chabad congregations sprinkled around the Valley.
Why it matters: Valley Jews who want to join a congregation or attend High Holiday services — the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, starts tonight — may have a long distance to travel.
Zoom in: Rabbi Jeremy Schneider of Scottsdale's Temple Kol Ami, who also serves as vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix, said he sometimes gets calls from Jewish people in the West Valley who "feel like they're on an island and they wish there were more choices out there."
- As the head of the only reform congregation in the West Valley, Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan of Temple of Beth Shalom of the West Valley says his Sun City synagogue attracts people from as far as Avondale, Goodyear, Tolleson and eastern Glendale.
- Once you get outside Scottsdale and more heavily Jewish parts of Phoenix, "there's like a 45-minute drive" where there's nothing, Kaplan says.
- Families will sometimes build a small congregation in a rented space, usually a church, Kaplan says, but those generally last only 10-15 years.
Zoom out: Many synagogues now offer services and other activities like Hebrew school and Torah study online, especially since the COVID pandemic.
- Once a month, Temple Beth Shalom holds Saturday morning services in congregants' homes, which, Kaplan says, allow people to attend without traveling far and provide the social interaction that leads some people to join synagogues.
Reality check: For many Phoenix-area Jews, the lack of options may not matter, given that a high number aren't temple-going anyway.
- Schneider says the affiliation of Jews with congregations is much lower here than in Dallas, where he was a rabbi before moving to Temple Kol Ami 12 years ago. He attributed that phenomenon to the Valley's booming growth and transient nature of its population.
- Many Jews who were members of congregations elsewhere don't rush to join a synagogue here unless there's a specific need, such as religious schooling.
💭 Jeremy's thought bubble: As a Jew who lives in central Phoenix, the lack of reform synagogues in my area — or even remotely nearby — has been a problem as my wife and I consider when and where to join a congregation, a growing concern as our kids get a little older.
- I live near Temple Beth Israel's old location on Osborn Road, but the synagogue moved north to Shea Boulevard more than 20 years ago.
- We know we'll have to travel for services whenever we do join a synagogue, but the thought of driving a half-hour for shabbat on Fridays after work isn't super enticing.
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