9/4/19: This piece has been updated to reflect and clarify additional information about funders.
Flagstaff’s eagerly anticipated Molly Blank Jewish Community Center will have its grand opening on Thursday, Sept. 5.
More than 500 people are expected to attend the grand opening event, which will feature a ribbon cutting followed by live music from the band Mother Road Trio, tours, children’s entertainment and kosher refreshments.
The building’s construction was led by Chabad of Flagstaff, which acquired 2.2 acres in 2010 to build a permanent home at 930 W. University Ave. The building’s funding campaign officially launched with a groundbreaking ceremony in 2017, and ultimately resulted in $7 million for the new center.
“We are extremely grateful and excited about the opening of the Molly Blank Jewish Community Center,” said Rabbi Dovie Shapiro, the director of the Chabad of Flagstaff. “Our community has come together to create a vibrant center for Jewish life for now and many generations to come.”
Shapiro founded the Flagstaff Chabad in 2006 with his wife, Chaya. Construction for the new JCC was completed earlier this summer. The architect for the building was Jim Shelton of design firm Gensler. The building was designed to incorporate many outdoor spaces and natural light. It met the requirements for the Coconino County Sustainable Building Program and is officially certified as a sustainable building.
“We have several categories in our program, each with their own subsections,” Coconino County Sustainability Specialist Nina Schmidt said. “For a building to become certified they need to fulfill certain requirements. The Molly Blank JCC fulfilled subsections in each of our larger categories.”
The 12,500-square-foot building houses a synagogue, meditation terrace, sukkah plaza, social hall, kosher kitchen, library, offices, mikvah, classrooms and guest suites.
Shapiro is grateful that the building is ready for the public and is happy to offer Flagstaff’s Jewish community a new home. Chabad of Flagstaff estimates that there are 500 Jewish households in the area. Northern Arizona University has roughly 700 Jewish students. The city also sees more than 5 million visitors annually.
Shapiro hopes the JCC will be used for lifecycle events and will be a new home for all Flagstaff Jews regardless of age or background. The facility will also house Chabad of Flagstaff’s staff and its summer camp, Camp Canyon.
The center is named after the mother of Arthur Blank, who is the co-founder of Home Depot and the owner of the Atlanta Falcons. The money raised by the building’s fundraising campaign was also matched by Blank, his family and The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which donated $2 million to the cause. Blank will speak at the grand opening.
Unfortunately, construction of the building hit an unexpected delay when the site was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. In late March, vandals broke into the construction zone and painted swastikas on the windows and carved them into the walls. The vandals also smashed equipment, threw paint on the ground and stole some power tools. While the foundation and the windows weren’t damaged, Shapiro said it was a disturbing display of hate. But Flagstaff showed the strength of its community after the incident.
“It really turned out to be this amazing outpour of support from the community at large,” Shapiro said. “So many people came out to support by sending us beautiful messages and hanging silver foil hearts on the fences. Many of those people will be joining us for the grand opening.”
There were more than a thousand foil hearts hung on the fences of the community center after the vandalism.
“To see this project come to completion despite the challenges we had is amazing,” Shapiro said. “To see the love and support from the community at large — not just the Jewish community — is something that I think will always be a part of this story.”
Looking into the future, Chabad of Flagstaff will make the most of its new facilities with the upcoming High Holidays. All of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services and dinners and Sukkot events will take place at the Molly Blank JCC.
“We’re approaching a new year and now we have a new facility, it really represents for us new beginnings for the Jewish community of Flagstaff,” Shapiro said. JN