A small group of Arizona Jews gathered on the south rim of the Grand Canyon one Shabbat morning in early July to reignite a unique pre-pandemic tradition. Before COVID-19 shut her down, Rabbi Nina Perlmutter, a canyon devotee, celebrated Shabbat once every spring at Shoshone Point, one of the South Rim’s most spectacular and least visited lookout spots. After a three-year pause, she and her traveling ark and Torah were back on July 8.
Perlmutter is the rabbi emerita of Congregation Lev Shalom in Flagstaff and the designated Jewish contact for the Grand Canyon’s south rim.
The day warmed up quickly but worshippers sat at open picnic tables sheltered from the direct sun by a small roof. A gentle breeze ruffled a few pages of the Reform Siddurim, but otherwise, the morning was peaceful and calm, just what the participants were hoping for.
“As my Hopi friends often observe, both of our traditions value how we come from dry, open, wilderness places and need to respect the earth and the places where our ancestors found connection with the Source,” Perlmutter said.
In years past, attendees were almost exclusively from Lev Shalom, but this year they were joined by people from Chino Valley, Prescott, Sedona, Valle and the Grand Canyon itself.
In a bit of kismet, Lev Shalom had set up its first table at Flagstaff’s Pride in the Pines parade a couple of weeks earlier. That’s where Perlmutter and others met Samantha Troi, who is an interpretive trainer for Xanterra, the privately owned park and resort management company that provides lodging and tourism services inside the Grand Canyon. Troi teaches Xanterra’s guides and bus drivers how to communicate about the canyon. On her own time, she started the Grand Canyon Pride Club, went to Pride in the Pines and found Lev Shalom.
Troi enthusiastically accepted the rabbi’s invitation to join the Saturday morning service. She even brought another Jewish employee along.
“After two years at the canyon, this was my first Jewish connection to this sacred place that I’m already so connected to, and being able to share that with everyone today has been absolutely profound,” Troi said.
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