A grand opening was held Thursday at the Molly Blank Jewish Community Center. The community center, which is located on West University Avenue, will serve Chabad at NAU and Chabad of Flagstaff.
According to The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, $2 million was contributed to the community center by the Blank family. Arthur Blank, a famous businessman and a co-founder of The Home Depot, was in attendance Thursday evening. In addition, Arthur's mother, Molly Blank, is the namesake of the building. The Blank Family Foundation has invested in various communities and projects throughout the country, including Flagstaff's new Jewish center.
Junior Josephine Gresham is the president of Chabad at NAU. Gresham said Chabad is an Orthodox Jewish movement based in Brooklyn, New York that seeks to spread the message of Judaism throughout the world.
Dovie and Chaya Shapiro are members of Chabad, and they have served the Flagstaff community as Jewish emissaries since 2006. Gresham explained the Shapiros' influence in opening the new community center.
"[The Shapiros] started out in their home, then they moved to a storefront right up the street and now to this beautiful building," Gresham said.
While speaking about the Blank Community Center, Gresham also mentioned the Moscowitz family. Shmulik and Yael Moscowitz played a significant role in the center's grand opening, which has come after two years of construction. Additionally, Rabbis Shapiro and Moscowitz will remain in Flagstaff permanently, representing the Jewish community and belief.
As reported by the Arizona Daily Sun, anti-Semitic vandals broke into the center's construction site in May, causing damage and leaving graffiti on the property. Gresham spoke about the importance of Thursday's opening and the devotion of Flagstaff's Jewish community.
"Our mission is to perform acts of goodness and kindness, bringing light into this world," Gresham said. "[This building] is a statement that we're here and we're not going away."
Various NAU alumni were also in attendance at the event. Jessica Stott, who now lives in Seattle, is an NAU alumna and the former president of Chabad at the university. Stott said the center's grand opening represented an important moment for the Flagstaff community.
"I think that this building will give students and the community the opportunity to embrace each other, their families and their friends," Stott said. "It will allow them to discover who they want to be."
Stott also spoke about her membership within the Young Jewish Professionals (YJP) organization. She said YJP is a strong way for graduate students, alumni and others to maintain their connection with Judaism and Chabad, whether they live in Flagstaff or elsewhere.
Stott said the new community center will always have its doors open. Everyone is welcome, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
"Being here for five years in this Chabad community is the most important experience I had in Flagstaff," Stott said. "It gave me somewhere to go when I needed help, advice or support."