Valley Mom, Rachel Hoffer, grew up – literally and figuratively – thanks to the Jewish Community Center (JCC).
“I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, where my father was Director of the Health and P.E. Department at the local JCC,” says Hoffer. “Over the next 12 years, we would follow the trajectory of his career to New York, then Florida, then finally Arizona, as he moved up in the ranks of the JCC.”
By 1987, Hoffer’s father was executive director of the JCC in Phoenix, which back then was on 19thAvenue and Maryland in Phoenix.
“I spent most of my days on their tennis courts, eventually earning my first job as a tennis instructor before working in their daycare program after high school, which is where I met my husband, Jonathan,” says Hoffer, noting he was program director for the JCC at the time.
Together, Rachel and Jonathan would serve as delegation heads for the JCC Maccabi Games, a North American Olympic style sporting event for Jewish teens from around the world, before marrying in 1996 and starting a family in 2000.
Throughout the early 2000s, the Hoffers would have three daughters and Rachel would serve in several prominent roles with their schools, including PTA president. The Hoffers commitment to the Jewish community continued with chairing the capital campaign to bring the local day-school to the Ina Levine JCC Campus as well as various other projects, events and committees to strengthen the community.
“In 2014, however, we were motivated to action in a deeper way than ever before, thanks to Fisher FLIGHT,” says Hoffer.
Fisher FLIGHT is a program that combines Jewish learning with immersive experiences for eight to 10 Jewish couples ages 40-50. Through three interactive programs over a 12-month period—one week-long experience in Israel and two weekend retreats—Fisher FLIGHT inspires participants to reach their potential as Jewish philanthropists and community leaders by focusing their charitable giving on Jewish and Israeli causes.
Inspired by that experience, and eager to show her daughters servant leadership by example, Hoffer joined the Jewish Federation’s National Young Leadership Cabinet in 2015. This coming year she will serve as the cabinet’s co-chair.
“And then there is Violins of Hope,” says Hoffer. “The seeds to bring this important, impactful program to Arizona actually began in 2016.”
It was during a Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix event, in fact, that Hoffer’s friend (and Violins of Hope co-chair) Julee Landau Shahon met global philanthropist and speaker Jane Weitzman. During a dinner party, as guests discussed ways to expand the organization’s reach as well as promote more inclusion and acceptance across Arizona, Weitzman brought up Violins of Hope, which was at the time touring through Cleveland.
“Through concerts, exhibitions, lectures and more, Violins of Hope tells the remarkable stories of violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust,” says Hoffer, noting there are 60 violins restored from the actual Holocaust that make up the collection itself. “Today these instruments serve not only as powerful reminders of an unimaginable experience but also reinforce lessons of tolerance, inclusion and diversity.”
Hoffer and Landau Shahon reached out to the family of the violinmaker responsible for bringing the violins back to life, Amnon and Avshi Weinstein, to see how and when they could bring the violins to Arizona.
“I was actually in Israel for my daughter’s bat mitzvah a short time later, and I had the honor of hearing the violins played while there. It was among my most moving moments and really fueled my desire to do everything in my power to help bring these beautiful instruments here to Arizona,” says Hoffer.
In a twist of fate, Hoffer was with her oldest daughter in Washington, D.C. in 2017 touring colleges, when Landau Shahon called saying the Weinsteins were in D.C. and were willing to meet and talk about an Arizona exhibition, says Hoffer, who – with her daughter – hopped in a Lyft after deciding against the school and sped to the meeting.
“Julee and I are beyond proud that the Violins of Hope are here in Phoenix and throughout the state this month,” says Hoffer. The Violins of Hope is a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.
There are free, ticketed and even school events for people of all ages and denominations, including:
- Now through Mar. 24, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will feature a Violins of Hope Exhibition. Monday-Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm, Sunday, noon-5. Docent-led tours (free).
- Now through Mar. 26, the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center will feature a free photography exhibit by renowned artist and photographer Daniel Levin called “Amnon Weinstein, The Man behind the Music”
- On Mar. 19, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will host a Violins of Hope Tribute Concert featuring the Red Rocks Music String Orchestra honoring Holocaust survivors and those who perished, with special guest Avshi Weinstein and emcee Lin Sue Cooney, at 7:30 p.m. (ticketed event)
- On Mar. 23 and 24, the Arizona Science Center Planetarium will host Chinese-American violinist Xiang (Sean) Gao as he gives an exclusive preview of a multi-media production based on stories of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees during the Holocaust.
- On Mar. 24, the Arizona Opera will perform selections from Brundibar, a children’s opera originally performed by the children of Theresienstadt. Then, the Phoenix Boys Choir will perform I Never Saw Another Butterfly, with a Violins of Hope finale. I Never Saw Another Butterfly is based on poems written by Jewish children imprisoned in Theresienstadt. It serves as both a dramatic reminder of the Holocaust as well as a remembrance for these children, most of whose lives were extinguished soon after their poetry was written.
“While I may do a lot of things, this is one I am so very honored to be part of; the true measure of all of this is my children,” says Hoffer. “My goal is to show them the importance of building a legacy of giving and to see them take on leadership roles in whatever fields and communities they choose as home. And, I think they are well on their way.”
Written by: Alison Bailin Batz
Alison Bailin Batz is a freelance writer on interesting people, places, things – as well as all thing travel, food and drink. Her musings can be seen in more than two dozen media outlets across the Southwest. She is also a senior account executive at HMA Public Relations in Phoenix.