Flagstaff synagogue redefining itself

For the first time since it was founded in 1973, Flagstaff’s Heichal Baoranim has a full-time rabbi who lives in Flagstaff.

Rabbi Mindie Snyder moved to town in August 2015 and, with the synagogue’s leaders, is currently working on redefining the Reform congregation’s mission and identity.

“Our most immediate goal is to define who we are as a congregation,” said David Miggins, who starts his third term as temple board president this month, via email. “What is our mission? What is our vision? What are our values? What are our priorities? Once we can define these, everything will be driven by that and we can begin to develop strategic plans and programming to fit the mission and vision.” A new name for the congregation is also being considered, he noted.

The synagogue currently has about 50 family member units and the potential for 150-200, based on their estimates of the number of Jews who live in the area, Snyder said. “We have a tremendous opportunity to grow.” The area’s Jewish community includes young families and those whom she calls “timeless folks” who “are an example of really optimal aging. They come from all over the country and have these really great stories of how they ended up in Flagstaff.”

The membership also includes faculty members of Northern Arizona University – where Snyder is involved with campus ministries – and staff of the Flagstaff Medical Center, where she is an on-call chaplain. The congregation is also trying to reach out to Phoenix families who have a second home in Flagstaff.

“Our primary goal is that everyone in Northern Arizona and in Phoenix know who we are,” Miggins wrote in the email. “When you are in Flagstaff, whether it’s to ski in winter or get out of the heat in summer, members of the Phoenix Jewish community are always welcome. We need the support of the Phoenix Jewish community in order to assure that there continues to be an egalitarian, Reform option in Flagstaff.”

The other Jewish presence in the area is Chabad of Flagstaff, which was founded in 2006.

Snyder is a member of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix and is working to strengthen the connection between Flagstaff’s Jewish community and other Jewish communities around the state.

For Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, the Israel Center and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix hosted a celebration at the Flagstaff congregation.

“It’s been a huge lift to this community to know they’re recognized by Phoenix and that they had been offered something that they’d never had before,” Snyder said. “It was a huge deal. We’re grateful to Shahar [Edry], and we’re grateful to Stuart [Wachs] for their help thus far.”

Edry is the director of the Israel Center and Wachs is the federation president and CEO.

Snyder completed her rabbinical studies at the Academy for Jewish Religion CA (AJRCA), with additional interreligious specialization at Bayan Claremont and Claremont School of Theology (CST). Her background includes over 30 years of experience in arts, health and human services. She is also an artist, expressive arts therapist, dancer, performer and poet. Her installation is being planned for the fall.

This past January, Snyder started a multi-religious (her preferred term for “interfaith”) clergy group in Flagstaff. The group doesn’t have an official name yet, but “it’s been a wonderful thing,” she said. “The clergy that are up here are some of my dearest friends ever.” They have already collaborated on various panels and are working on ideas for other collaborative efforts. She is also the rabbinic voice in a multi-religious clergy group in Kingman. The group’s name – which originated after the group started meeting for a cup of coffee is – KUPA: Kingman United Pastoral Association. KUPA is planning a program on lovingkindness on Aug. 14.

In addition to Jewish individuals and families in Flagstaff, Heichal Baoranim also draws people from the areas of Bullhead City, the Grand Canyon and Kingman.

Heichal Baoranim’s Rabbi Emeritus Nina Perlmutter, who served the congregation from 2009 to 2015, commuted from her home in Prescott. Before that, the synagogue primarily relied on student rabbis or part-time rabbis who commuted from out of town, according to Miggins.

“Because there wasn’t a full-time, boots-on-the-ground rabbi here, there wasn’t the ability to let people know that the door’s open,” Snyder said. “So I’m opening doors in different places.”

This article first appeared in the July 8, 2016 issue of Phoenix Jewish News

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