The historic Beth Hebrew Synagogue in downtown Phoenix will hold Shabbat services for the first time in nearly 40 years on Friday, January 8.
Phoenix developer Michael Levine, who has been rehabbing the synagogue for the past year, and Crescent Ballroom owner Charlie Levy teamed up to organize the community event. Over the last nine months, the building, which opened in 1955, has seen stucco removed from its exterior as well as stained glass windows revealed inside.
Billed as a Downtown Shabbat, the 8 p.m. service is open to the community, and will include music performed by members of the indie rock band Sun Bones. The event is free with food provided by Crescent Ballroom's Cocina 10.
An all-musical prayer service called Armon Bizman (or A Castle in Time) will be part of the downtown Shabbat experience. Armon Bizman was first commissioned by Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon of Temple Emanu-El in Tucson (the oldest synagogue in Arizona) and performed there last October. The music was written and arranged by Sam Golden and Bob Henshaw of Tucson's Sun Bones, and will feature soloist Lindsey O'Shea.
The building, which is home to Beth Hebrew, (333 East Portland St.) is a place with a story to tell. One of the temple's co-founders, Elias Loewy, is known as the "Jewish Schindler." Loewy, a German-born Holocaust survivor is credited with rescuing more than 1,500 Jews from concentration camps in France during World War II. "His story is not as well-known or recognized," says Deborah Sussman, an occasional New Times contributor formerly of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. "Perhaps because his family left and came to the United States. But he was a man who, throughout his life, figured out what needed to be done and did it." After the war, Loewy moved with his family to New York, then later, settled in Arizona in 1948. He was key in raising the funds to build the synagogue.
As members of the Beth Hebrew congregation migrated to others areas across the Valley in the 1970's, the synagogue fell into disrepair. In early 2015 it was purchased by developer Michael Levine and painstaking renovations were begun. Last September, Levine re-opened the synagogue for informal Rosh Hashanah services.
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Charlie Levy, from Crescent Ballroom and Stateside Presents, happened to see the Armon Bizman Shabbat Services in Tucson, thought of the renovations being done at Beth Hebrew and said, "This would be a really great thing to have in Phoenix." So he teamed up with Michael Levine.
The building represents not just the history of the Jewish community in Phoenix, but also a history of downtown. "The building is significant socially, and culturally, but also architecturally," Sussman says.
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon from Temple Emanu-El in Tucson will lead the service of music and prayer. Come out to listen to good music, take in a piece of unique local history, and have a bean and cheese burrito while you're at it. What could be more "downtown" than that?
Downtown Shabbat at Beth Hebrew Synagogue takes place at 333 E. Portland St. at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 8.