Printed on: January 28, 2013

Twin Falls Jewish community grows thru Facebook

PAUL DUNN
Times-News

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - They call themselves the "Jew Crew."

And now they have a Facebook page to prove it.

"It's a way to put something out there for people to contact us," said Robin Dober, who is known with her husband Tony Prater as the go-to person for all things Jewish in Twin Falls.

Which, incidentally, isn't much, yet.

Though the couple call the city's Jews a close-knit "family," Prater estimates Twin Falls is home to only about 50 in the faith - and so far, four Facebook friends. Prater, who designed and inaugurated the page on Jan. 14, isn't disappointed.

"I haven't had a real vehicle yet to get it (Facebook page) out to the Jewish community," he said. "We are an outreach for Jewish people in Boise and the Wood River Valley and people elsewhere who can connect with the Jewish community here if they want to."

Prater designed another Facebook page in 2010 called "Jews in Southern Idaho," but eventually discontinued it in favor of the current more clearly defined version.

"The first one was just too broad and drew people from a too-wide range of places," he said.

The 54-year-old Twin Falls native, who is CEO of 14 Jensen Jewelers locations in the West - two in Twin Falls - and Dober, 48, who owns the downtown ceramics studio Hands On, are resolute in the face of a daunting reality: Twin Falls has no synagogue and no rabbi, and is unlikely to get either in the near future.

But they and other active members of "Beth Chaverim," the name Prater coined in December 2011 for Twin Falls' Jewish congregation, stick together like matzo balls in chicken broth. The title in Hebrew means "house of friends," and is reflected in the Facebook page's name: "Beth Chaverim of Southern Idaho."

"I chose the name because we are a house of friends, and people feel a real warmth and welcoming in it," said Prater, who as the congregation's lay leader presides over services and prayers when fellow Jews gather, usually about once a month.

The latest gathering celebrated a local bar mitzvah - a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish boys - though members also routinely celebrate Jewish holidays such as Passover, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Sukkot.

The Jewish community of Twin Falls initially started to jell in 2006 after a freak car accident left several traveling Israeli camp counselors stranded, and one hospitalized, in Twin Falls. Dober and Prater opened their home to the youngsters, and when they left after about a week, Dober had an epiphany.

"I realized that there was a reason I was here in Twin Falls, sort of like a stranger in a strange land, and that was to be the person who pulls the Jewish community together," Dober said.

Dober moved to Twin Falls 14 years ago to be with Prater. She spent much of her childhood in Connecticut and had been in Boston for about 12 years prior to her move west.

"I missed the sense of Jewish community I had back East, and the Israeli kids rekindled that sense in me," she said. "It did not occur to me that there would be no Jewish community here when Imoved."

Hansen resident Ann Alvarez, 69, another member of the Jew Crew, met Dober in 2003 and was soon in the fold of the fledgling Jewish community.

"It's interesting how it all came about, because all of us has a little piece of it and a story that revolves around Tony and Robin," Alvarez said. "Traditionally, we have all gotten together through word of mouth."

Twin Falls history, however, points to a far stronger Jewish presence - and this not so long ago.

"There were a lot of Jewish businesses in town in the late '60s and early '70s," Prater said. "I went to school with all of these Jewish kids whose families had these businesses."

But it didn't last. As more and more Jewish students went off to college and never returned, the vibrant Jewish connection suffered.

"The Jewish community went from decent to nothing in no time," Prater said. "Now, though, some other Jewish people are showing up in town that we haven't seen before and didn't know existed."

And once word of the congregation's new Facebook page gets out, the couple hopes the Jew Crew will continue to expand.

"It would be nice if there were more people to share the outreach responsibilities so we could grow the community," Dober said.

And all those kids who attended college 35 years ago and never returned to Twin Falls? The Jew Crew wants to avoid that this time.

"I think it's important that our younger adults and children become part of our group so it will carry on," Prater concluded.

And he's hoping the new Facebook page might just do the trick.