A solid perspective about the variances of time is necessary when analyzing the route the Pollack Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Chandler has taken to get to its grand-opening celebration on Aug. 18. It started off as a dream for Rabbi Mendy Deitsch 15 years ago, inched closer to reality five years later after a property transaction in Chandler, and had a goal of opening shortly thereafter.
And then the realities of life struck. Raising funds to build the place from the community members was difficult, and the bottom fell out for just about everyone in 2008. It ended up taking a few years to get to a point of economic stability in which construction
could commence and the project could remain viable.
But here Deitsch is now, five days away from the grand opening of a place he hopes will become a home for the East Valley’s Jewish community.
The information contained on the press release about the center’s opening — located at 875 McClintock Drive in Chandler — has it listed as a synagogue, but that really doesn’t fit either the center’s aesthetic or function. There aren’t any dominating pillars adorning the sides, and the place doesn’t have the awe-inducing heights historic synagogues like those in Europe or even on the East Coast possess. Rather, the center is a relatively flat building that blends in so well with its neighbors it can induce a U-turn from drivers searching for the spot.
Then again, Deitsch said the Pollack Chabad Center is more of a communal gathering place — one that tailors itself to all branches of Judaism — than a synagogue, even though it will offer services every week in its main hall that seats up to 450 people.
“It’s really not based on the synagogue; it’s based on the programs,” he said.
Once it gets going, those programs will encompass a Jewish preschool for kids between 18 months and the age of 5 and Hebrew school for kids ages 5 to 13, as well as bar and bat mitzvahs, holiday observances and outdoor weddings. The center’s other features include a library, computer lab and a kitchen to prepare kosher delights like bourekas.
The center’s décor oscillates between handmade, indoor wooden playground equipment — Deitsch said the castle-like play area was built by a local Eagle Scout— to higher-end pieces encompassing marble-like flooring and a walnut Torah ark in the main hall.
The center also features bits of newer technolog, such as flat-panel televisions hanging on the walls that Deitsch said are meant to ensure visitors the center is more intimate than intimidating, while helping to create a more upper-end aesthetic.
“The community deserves a first-class facility,” he said.
Sunday’s opening will mark the fruition of a dream for the Brooklyn-native Deitsch, who also spent time as a student rabbi in Russia and South America. He came to Phoenix 15 years ago with his wife, Shternie, and one child — the family has since added eight more members to its brood — and shifted over to the East Valley at the request of a Phoenix rabbi.
Chandler didn’t have the largest Judaic presence back then, and the first five years of services were conducted in his living room.
“There was nothing; there was no Jewish activity in Chandler,” he said.
But it began to grow, member by member by member, to the point that building a proper place to worship in was a logical and reasonable endeavor. The spot in Chandler was selected in-part due to the proximity of other East Valley cities, as it’s on the precipice of Tempe and within easy driving distance from snippets of Mesa, Gilbert and Ahwatukee. As Deitsch put it, the spot along McClintock has “tremendous” potential for continued growth due to the location and the influx of young families to the surrounding area.
The deal took place in 2003, and a few monetary factors came into play afterward that prevented Deitsch and his followers from completing the Pollack Chabad Center for multiple years. The economic crash in 2008 is the most prominent example, but problems arose raising the funds needed to continue construction with the aforementioned small community that Deitsch said isn’t as affluent as Scottsdale.
This is the point where the perspective mentioned earlier comes into play, as it really depends on how one measures a decade or a decade-plus-five. It’s a long time when measured in parenthood years, certainly long enough for a child born when Deitsch first arrived in Arizona to be a high school freshman or sophomore this year.
But it’s a blink of an eye when compared to the history of Deitsch’s faith, within the context of the average lifespan, or, especially, in the pursuit of a dream.
“In the bigger scheme of things, 15 years is not long to get to this point,” he said.
Sunday’s opening will begin at 5 p.m., complete with the usual ribbon cutting and traditional Jewish rituals like the placement of Mezuzos — parchments containing the Jewish prayer Shema Yisreal — on the doorway.
Sunday’s event, however, doesn’t mark the completion of the Pollack Chabad Center. The verdant and fecund backyard area still has room to grow, and there are other pieces within the center itself Deitsch said will come as more funding trickles in.
But good dreams never really end, and steps taken to get to the coming weekend when the scissors snip through the ribbon in front of the center’s large wooden doors constitutes nothing less than a “wonderful ride” for Deitsch.
“Thank God we’re here and we’re up and we’re good,” he said. “It’s a miracle we’ve come this far.”
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