Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman has had hardly a moment's rest since his recent move to Oro Valley.
Zimmerman, 26, started receiving phone calls almost immediately after coming to town with his wife Mushkie and two daughters, Devora and Chana, to set up Chabad of Oro Valley - a branch of the international Jewish outreach organization that already had three locations in the Tucson area.
"Things started happening a lot quicker than I thought they would," he said. "We began having people over for Shabbat dinners right away, meeting people, studying with people one on one."
Zimmerman's move to Oro Valley fills a void for many of the 1,600 Jewish families in Marana, Oro Valley, SaddleBrooke and other areas of northwest Pima County who often have to travel long distances for spiritual guidance.
The nearest synagogues to Oro Valley are Congregation Bet Shalom, 3881 E. River Road, and Congregation Or Chadash, 3939 N. Alvernon Way.
Several Tucson synagogues, including Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Anshei Israel, have been known to travel north, holding gatherings in hotels and conference halls, but those visits can be few and far between.
"A lot of people had told me that they were waiting for someone to arrive," Zimmerman said. "They don't want to have to drive 40 minutes each way for services."
Zimmerman was ordained four years ago. He moved to Oro Valley after spending three years with his family in Brooklyn.
A Chicago native, Zimmerman said Oro Valley's serene surroundings have taken some adjustment.
"New York City is the city that never sleeps," he said. "It is very different here. At night it gets so dark and quiet."
Zimmerman said the reception has been warm from area residents.
People have been inviting him for and taken him up on dinners and coffees.
Zimmerman said the most common misconception that people have about Chabad is who the organization is meant to serve.
Rabbis involved with Chabad hold themselves to an orthodox code of conduct, but "Chabad is a general Jewish resource," Zimmerman said. "The goal is to enhance and foster the community, but to also increase Jewish awareness and observance."
Zimmerman and Mushkie, 25, run Chabad of Oro Valley together, holding events in their home as well as at the new offices of the northwest division of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, 190 W. Magee Road.
Zimmerman said the offices will be invaluable as Chabad gets started in Oro Valley.
His first classes at the facility, revolving around the teachings of Kabbalah, were scheduled to start yesterday.
"We are working hand in hand with the federation," he said. "It works out very well for both of us."
"He is an incredible asset," said Anne Lowe, the Jewish federation's northwest division director. "His whole thing is getting more Jewish people engaged in their religion. I think he is going to do a great job in the northwest."
Zimmerman has big short-term and long-term plans for Chabad of Oro Valley. Within the next year he hopes to start a teen club, a kids club and senior programs with local assisted-living facilities. He also wants to initiate a chaplaincy program with prisons in the area and Oro Valley Hospital, 1551 E. Tangerine Road.
In the long term, Zimmerman sees Chabad with its own office space within five years and its own building within a decade.
Contact Chabad of Oro Valley at jewishorovalley.com or 477-8672.