HISTORY OF CONGREGATION LEV SHALOM
In the early 1970’s, much like now, Jewish travelers visiting Flagstaff hoped to meet other Jews. Some just hoped for Jewish connections. Some needed a minyan to observe a yahrzeit. In the winter of 1972/73, six local residents decided to meet those needs more formally. They took an important next step and began planning a synagogue. It would be called Heichal Baoranim (Sanctuary in the Pines).Those visionaries were Rhoda and Merrill Abeshaus, Hilda (z’l). and Ray Berman (z’l)., and Sharon and Lenny Ritt. At first they met at their homes, creating services by copying pages from the daily prayer book Rhoda had. The first High Holy Day services were held in September 1973. Twenty people attended the first day, with a few less the second day. The beloved Phoenix Rabbi Albert Plotkin (z’l). loaned a Torah. With foresight, Rhoda’s father ordered a dozen tallitot (prayer shawls).
Soon afterwards, the Feldstein family moved to Flagstaff. In addition to two more Jewish adults (Judy and Murray), the community now totaled 10 children. They began a regular religious school on Sunday mornings. In search of possible additional families, the Abeshauses searched the telephone book for Jewish names (they remembered some “rather comical” conversations as they did so).
As time passed, they rotated having services in different homes. The hosting family would provide the oneg and conduct services – learning along the way. Eventually, a few Silverman (Conservative) prayerbooks were donated. The founders bought more, and also bought machzorim for the High Holy Days. Others began hosting the growing group.
When private homes became too small for the High Holy Days, the fledgling group would use other venues (e.g., the basement of Little America and the Unitarian Church and Flagstaff Federated Community Church for Passover seders). Federated was especially gracious about letting the congregation use its mimeograph machines, tables, and chairs. Seders continued at Federated for decades. The congregation moved into its current location in 1990.
Ray Berman led High Holy Day services early on. Then the congregation had student rabbis come for monthly or bi-monthly services, rotating with a Conservative student rabbi one year and then a Reform student rabbi the next year. Rabbi Jonathan Seidel, who commuted from Tucson on a regular basis, was the first rabbi engaged by the congregation, followed by Rabbi William Berkowitz, who commuted from Sedona. After his departure, the congregation, once again engaged student rabbis. One such student rabbi from the Academy for Jewish Religion – California (AJRCA), Nina Perlmutter, was engaged in 2008. Upon her ordination in 2009, she was engaged as the congregation’s permanent part-time rabbi, community at least twice a month from her home in Prescott (and later, Chino Valley).
Unfortunately, for health reasons Rabbi Perlmutter had to step down in early 2015. In the fall of 2015 through July of 2019, Rabbi Mindie Snyder, also ordained at the AJRCA, became our spiritual leader – the first to live full-time in Flagstaff. Rabbi Emerita Perlmutter continues to serve the congregation on an as-needed basis.
The congregation became affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) in 1983. In 2016, the members of the congregation voted to change its name to Congregation Lev Shalom (Heart of Peace). We are proud to continue to be the community’s egalitarian Jewish congregation.