Congregation Or Chadash’s Vision, adopted in January 2002, is to be a warm and welcoming spiritual Jewish Community – a place to experience God. In its 18 years under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Thomas A. Louchheim, D.D., Congregation Or Chadash has grown from 12 founding families in 1995 to over 360 families. It has changed from an itinerant “homeless” community to having its own synagogue campus home with administrative offices, religious school, space for community meetings and worship, and expansion space for a 9,600-square-foot sanctuary.
Despite the lack of a permanent home, from its inception the congregation embraced its mission of tikkun olam, participating in various social action projects such as
Operation Deep Freeze, feeding the hungry, delivering food to shut-ins, local community Make a Difference days, interreligious scripture study with Christian and Muslim congregations, Muslim-Jewish Peace Walk, and Habitat for Humanity. In spring 2000, Or Chadash and Congregation Chaverim, another Tucson Reform synagogue, built a home under the supervision of Habitat for Humanity—the first Jewish-built Habitat home in Tucson. Congregants have since participated in other local Habitat builds. The congregation held a Yom HaShoah Jewish community blood drive with the American Red Cross on April 22, 2001. Over 50 donors participated and 44 units of blood collected, exceeding the Red Cross goal by 19 units.
The congregation attempted to purchase the Stone Avenue Temple, Arizona’s oldest synagogue building. “It is our responsibility,” said Rabbi Louchheim, “as Jews who live in this community, to restore this building to its original purpose. For many years, it has been left alone, yet remarkably, some of the original work, like the wood pews, remain. With all the synagogues that have been destroyed in the last 50 years, it is incumbent on us to save this one.” While the building ultimately was not purchased for the congregation, “several congregants said they could ante up a down payment” to save the building for the community (Arizona Daily Star, October 25, 1995). At the time, the congregation had 20 member families and a mailing list of over 200.
In April 2001, the Congregation extended its social action mission by joining the Northwest Interfaith Center (now Interfaith Community Services, ICS) as the first synagogue member. Congregants volunteer providing services through ICS programs, serve on the ICS board, and collect food for its food bank.
The Religious School Youth Philanthropy Board annually contributes to its Noah Cohen Memorial Youth Philanthropy Fund and awards grants from the fund to local public service organizations. The National Foundation for Philanthropy awarded its Youth in Philanthropy Award to the Or Chadash 7th Grade students in 2011.
Summer 1995 Twelve (12) families approached Rabbi to be the rabbi of a new congregation. “More than 150 people attended the Or Chadash, New Light, first Friday Shabbat service on August 18” at the Zenith Center, 330 East 7th Street. Part of the congregation’s vision, according to Rabbi Louchheim, was to reshape the Shabbat ritual experience and to “offer a new perspective on our spiritual search for value and meaning.” (Arizona Jewish Post, September 1, 1995)
The congregation’s original members included: Fran Braverman, Gail Dent, Jane and Herb Elins, Belle Horwitz, Robert Klein, Bonnie and Oscar Krasner, Wendy Kreindler, William Louchheim, Sr., Saul Ostroff, Rise and Bill Rosenfeld, Connie and Ian Shalek, Emily (Wolitzky) Danies, and the board members below. The first Board of Directors was: President, Ken Jacowsky, Secretary, Betsy Sandlin, Vice President-Education, Steve Caine, Vice President-Membership: Pam Treiber Treasurer, Lois Jacowsky
Members-at-large: Elaine Nathanson, Rhonda Krinsky, Trudy Wrubel, and Marjie Klein
September 17, 1995 Over 140 people attended the Congregation’s first Open House at the Hillel Center.
October 9, 1995 The congregation incorporated in the state of Arizona.
November 10, 1995 Friday night services moved from the Zenith Center to the Pavilion at the home of Peggy Hitchcock; Torah study, some holiday celebrations, and the first religious school were at Rabbi Louchheim’s home. Trudy (Wrubel) Haggard was the accompanist and Cantorial soloist from 1995 to Fall, 1999. The congregation published its first issue of The New Light bulletin in November 1995.
Sunday, December 3, 1995 The congregation held its first annual meeting at the Tucson Jewish Community Center (JCC) and adopted a budget of $81,250.
February 6, 1996 The congregation had its first Bat Mitzvah, Ayla Ruben’s at the Pavilion. Fran Braverman was the first adult Bat Mitzvah.
June 22, 1996 Andrew Shalek was the first Bar Mitzvah at the congregation.
August 1996 Goldie Silverman made a donation, in memory of her husband Jake, to purchase a Torah scroll. The Board of Directors of B’nai Sholem, an Orthodox congregation in St. Joseph, Missouri, decided to “gift” their scroll, which Marcia Louchheim’s great-grandfather, Rabbi Joshua Frumhoff, brought from Kharkov, Russia (near the Black Sea) to B’nai Sholem. The congregation attended the scroll’s dedication Friday evening, January 29, 1999. Mary Ann Danin created a mantle and Fran Braverman donated two yaddim.
October 1996 Fifty-six (56) students enrolled in the religious school program with Marcia Louchheim, the first Director of Education. Classes were at the JCC. The staff expanded to include Melissa Winkle and Cindy Weintraub. In 1997, over 100 students enrolled and in 1998, classes moved to the Temple Emanu-El building. In the 1999-2000 year, over 140 students enrolled with classes located at the Tucson Hebrew Academy. In spring, 2000, the congregation hired Brenda Landau as the new Director of Education.
June 7, 1998 The congregation joined the Union for Reform Judaism (at the time, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, UAHC).
January 29, 1999 Or Chadash received its UAHC charter. That month, the congregation became a sponsor of the Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Living (COEJL). Rabbi Louchheim and congregants participated in numerous spiritual hikes in the area.
January 2000 The congregation broadened its worship and community services, hiring Cantor Janece Cohen for the 1999 High Holy Days and then as Cantor of the congregation at a special meeting. The congregation began participating in an interfaith scriptural study with a Muslim group and two Christian churches.
June 9, 2000 The congregation had its first Confirmation with Confirmands Emily Brent, Ruth Morrison, Ariel Tinney, and Robert Weintraub. Ariel was a student in the first Religious School class held in the rabbi’s home.
June 2001 The congregation moved Friday night services to the Junior League of Tucson.
August 13, 2001 The Religious School continued to expand and the Board created the “Special Needs” fund to assist the congregation in teaching students with special learning needs. The 2001-2002 Religious School enrollment was 150 students, the largest synagogue religious school in the Tucson Jewish community.
March 1, 2002 At a special meeting, the congregation passed a motion made by Fred Havas, seconded by David Weintraub, to purchase the property at 3939 N. Alvernon Way, just north of River Road as the site of its religious school and synagogue.
April 2002 The congregation purchased the 4.2 acre property from Libby Ross in for $900,000 with the seller donating $200,000 to the congregation. Bank of Tucson provided financing of $700,000. The property was appraised for $1,000,000. The Congregation renovated the existing 4,000 square foot house into functional office space, allowing the house to function as administrative office space, a small meeting room, a chapel housing the Torah scrolls, a library hall, gift shop, and kitchen. The congregation undertook a $1.8 to $2.2 million capital campaign.
April 13, 2002 The congregation celebrated its first Adult B’not Mitzvah on Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5762. The B’not Mitzvah were Su Benaron, Diane Kerrihard, Terri Krasner, Rhonda Krinsky, Fay Roos, and Toni Tallman.
April 2004 The Congregation established an Or Chadash Section of Evergreen Mortuary and Cemetery.
May 2, 2004 Rabbi Louchheim hung a mezuzah on the door of the new office building at 3939 North Alvernon Way and moved the Torah scroll from the JCC to the new ark in the congregation’s chapel on the Alvernon synagogue campus.
February 2006 Or Chadash launched the Make Your Mark project with Sofer Rabbi Shmuel Miller writing a Sefer Torah scroll for the congregation.
December 9, 2006 In its 10th Anniversary year, the congregation dedicated the new Education Center on the Alvernon synagogue campus. Read more
December 7, 2009 Rabbi Thomas Louchheim and Cantor Janece Cohen and the Board of Directors of Congregation Or Chadash formally received Scroll MST-1408, a Holocaust Scroll. The Scroll is on long-term loan from the Czech Memorial Scroll of Westminster, United Kingdom. A special dedication took place on Friday, May 21, 2010. The generosity of Sue and Herb Cohn made the Torah project possible.
July 2009 The congregation undertook the campaign to Secure the Future to retain the synagogue property for the congregation.
May 20, 2011 The congregation dedicated its new Community Room that enables the Congregation to hold Shabbat services in a synagogue setting on its property and provides space for congregational meetings. The Community room seats 200 people and is the venue for many community events that the congregation previously was unable to host for lack of space.
March 2012 Building for the Future campaign launched to pay down the mortgage and raise funds for a future sanctuary.
April 2012 Alan Pearlman became the new Executive Director.
April 22, 2012 Grand Opening of the Or Chadash Library with over 1000 volumes organized and catalogued by Roberta and Marty Greene. The library has a check-out system for members and others, and special shelf dedicated to authors who are Or Chadash members or relatives of members including David Levy, Lauren Grossman, Michael Tauber, Amy Lederman, Robert Klein, Naomi Benaron, Sol Resnick, and Bonnie Marson.
May 2012 Rabbi Louchheim received his Doctor of Divinity from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, CA for his 25 years in the Rabbinate.
June 2012 Or Chadash installs the Etz Chaim Wall of Gratitude, designed by Lynn Rae Lowe, to recognize everyone who contributed to the past Capital Campaigns. The tree is a rustic metal vine with room to attach metal leaves with the donors’ names engraved on each of them.