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Visiting Jewish Tuscon

What do you think  of when  you hear of Tucson, Arizona? Perhaps cowboys and Indians, cacti and lizards? You probably don’t imagine frum ranch-hands with lassos herding into Synagogue. Actually, there is a frum community in Tucson (no cow- boys, though) with two shuls, “Congregation Chofetz Chaim”, and the Chabad’s “Young Israel of Tucson.” The Rabbis of the shuls are Rabbi Yisroel Becker of Cong. Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Yosef Shem- Tov of Young Israel of Tucson. There are also two Mikvahs, a Glatt Kosher Deli, a kosher bakery and supermarkets replete with heimishe kosher goods! (One stress- free bonus is the ample parking every- where!) There are also a couple of nice hotels near the Chofetz Chaim Shul, as well as the “Casa de Shabbos” (a beautiful 2 bedroom/ 2 bathroom apartment with a kosher kitchen near the shul) available for rent for short or extended stays.

From a frum perspective, this is a fabulous city to visit. It is a wonderful destination for the entire family.

The chareidi Satmar community have been coming to Tucson for decades. They maintain a private enclave with its own amenities and services complete with Bais Medrash and Mikveh. Families come from Williamsburg, Monsey,  Monroe and other areas to vacation, enjoy the scenic and pleasant climate, go on nature walks and simply relax from the routine demands of their lifestyle.

Tucson is beautifully located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by majestic mountains. Weather is beautiful much of the year. Though it is hot in the summer, it’s a dry heat and it is not humid (like Florida). Just drink lots of water and be careful when you touch the metal seat belts! The beautiful scenery and dry fresh air, with its many health benefits has made Tucson a world-famous destination.

There are incredible nature hikes in the mountain ranges surrounding the city, the Santa Catalina Mountains in the North and Northeast, The Santa Rita Mountains in the South and Southeast, the Rincon Mountains in the East, the Tucson Mountains to the West, and the Tortolita Mountains in the Northwest. There are also many National and State Parks, such as Catalina State Park and Saguaro National Park with the iconic and impressive saguaro cacti guarding the unique desert scene. A highly popular hiking hot spot is on Mount Lemmon, with its numerous trails and a ski-lift at the top of the mountain. There is beautiful and rugged Sabino Canyon, a gorgeous scenic canyon with desert foliage and occasional wildlife. A tram ride takes  you through the canyon for a relaxing experience. The more adventurous hike or bike through.

The world-renown Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum is one of the Top Ten things to see in Arizona (just not in 110 degree weather!). It is an all-encompassing world-renowned zoo, natural history museum and desert botanical garden, a spectacular home to over 300 animal species and 1,200 kinds of plants in their natural desert habitat. This is a must-see!

Incidentally, there is a breathtaking drive through the Tucson Mountains along “Gate’s Pass” that leads to the Desert Museum. Get ready for your jaw (and cellphone service) to drop! The Gate’s Pass Drive also leads to another nice attraction: Colossal Cave Mountain Park. This has a 45-50  minute  guided tour of the cave’s formations. There are also Western horse trail rides that go from La Posta Quemada Ranch facility in Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

In the Desert Museum vicinity, there is the International Wildlife Museum, a very well done museum of taxidermy, show- casing many animals that look alive, but aren’t! It’s as close as you can get to a lion and polar bear with his mouth open!

There are also beautiful lakes where you can rent boats, such as Canyon Lake, and Lake Patagonia. Picture cactuses along the shoreline and rock formations/mountains in the background with the setting sun lighting up the massive walls of Canyon Lake. This is truly a sight to see. A wonderful family experience is Kartcherner Caverns, a newly discovered hidden underground wonder; a beautiful and mysterious limestone cave with stalagmites and stalactites in an informative and enlightening tour. The grand finale of the tour is the Throne Room with a huge 58 foot tall column, the Kubla Khan, with a light and music show enhancing its grandeur.

Another popular tourist site is the Bio- sphere 2. It serves as a testimony to the frailty of man and the dangers of “Kochi V’Otsem Yadi.” The Biosphere 2 is actually a failed scientific experiment in which scientists recreated their own sealed-off mini-world, with their own oxygen and food  from plants within the structure.

Nothing was allowed to come  in from the outside world. Scientists were to live there for 2 years. Guess what happened? It didn’t work!

There are also fascinating museums to visit. The Titan Missile Museum houses the shell of the Titan Missile, and the Pima Air and Space Museum has more than 300 air- craft on display, including war planes and a former president’s Air Force One that you can climb aboard and explore!

For the kids, there is the “Old Tucson” attraction, an old town reenactment of the “Wild West with rides, panning for gold, Old West photos and some Old West shows. (However, some shows might not be appropriate for Binei Torah because of Tzinius and Language.)

If you are willing to drive, Tucson is also within reasonable distance from some incredible tourist attractions, such as Bis- bee, an old miner’s  town,  where  there is a very cool Copper Mine Tour train ride (Queen Mine Tours), and a famous (or in- famous) neighboring town named Tomb- stone, where a daily reenactment of the 1881 O.K. Corral gunfight takes place. Tucson is also about one hour away from the Mexican border town of Nogales. This is the secret of those onyx fruits and chess sets. This is the place for those who are looking for a real metziah, as the bar- gaining is more of an art than the wares themselves! Don’t pay the price they name for anything!  They’ll  go from  $70.00 to $20.00 in a matter of minutes!

Tucson is also 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Phoenix/Scottsdale.  Phoenix has some interesting sites, as well, including Taliesin West, the unusual home of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Phoenix Zoo and the fabulous Scottsdale shopping and golfing!

If you can stay for more than a week, you will want to venture out to some of the most awesome sights in the country. One of the seven wonders of the world, worthy of the brochah “Oseh Maaseh Beraishis” is the Grand Canyon! It is a truly awesome experience, especially at sunrise! The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 6 hours away from Tucson.

En route, about 3 hours and 45 minutes north is Sedona’s Oak Creek Park, famous for its red rock formations, such as Cathedral Rock overlooking the water.  Sedona is home to internationally renowned Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village with over 40 specialty shops and exclusive art galleries. Nearby are also interesting Sinaguan cliff dwellings at the Palatki Red Cliffs Heritage Site.

For astronomy enthusiasts, don’t miss the Kitt’s Peak observatory to really see the stars! Kitt’s Peak holds the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes. It is 56 miles SouthWest of Tucson. Book two to four weeks in advance for their night tours which are very unique and popular!

For those who want to connect to the moon, there is meteor crater, the world’s best preserved meteorite impact site, complete with observation trails, an interactive discovery center and the “Collisions and Impacts” movie to create a audio-visual experience.

There are also unusual, one-of-a-kind archaeological sites on the way to the Grand Canyon, such as Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monument, to see the Aztec cliff dwellings.

For a leisurely Friday afternoon take a relaxing and beautiful walk before Shabbos through the delightful Tucson Botanical Gardens. The Reid Park Zoo is ideal for the kids to see and interact with many different animals. They have daily giraffe encounters and an excellent Polar Bear exhibit! “Golf and Stuff” is another  great place for the kids, with mini-golf, go- karts, bumper boats and arcades.

Tucson shopping is a lady’s dream! There are three huge malls with fabulous stores, such as Dillards. There are also many quaint antique shops (“The Cop- per Kettle”…)

Just in case all this fantastic tourist in- formation wasn’t enough of an excuse for that well-deserved getaway, a unique opportunity to visit one of the most famous events Tucson, “The Gem Show” taking place in February, a supreme candy land for jewelry retailers and customers alike, will be sure to whet your palette.

Now that you have discovered this special hidden Jewish traveler’s gem called Tucson, Arizona, book your vacation early because as per the date of this article’s release, the secret is out!

- By Shaindee Sussman For additional information when plan- ning your trip, you may wish to email Rabbi Becker YZBecker@cox.net or call 520-591-5292, Congregation Chofetz Chaim.

Shaindee Sussman is a world traveler, grew up in Flatbush, and enjoys vacationing in Tucson. She will gladly respond to your com-ments and can be reached through the editor. Email editor@kolhakavodnews.com.

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