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Pioneers in Judaism

Early Beginnings:   Pre-Temple 1886 - 1909

Judaism survived in the Tucson desert without a synagogue and without an ordained religious leader.

Jewish men in the community conducted services in available halls, stores or homes.  Occasionally, circuit rabbis from nearby states visited to lecture, conduct services or advise.  Supportive local newspapers published meeting notices, invited all community members to attend, and also announced which businesses would close for religious observances.  As the population grew, the dream of a real Jewish congregation with a real synagogue also grew.  Innovative activities were organized uniting the Jewish community and serious efforts to raise money for a permanent place of worship began.

In 1886, the March 9 Tucson Citizen described "...The ball masque given at Reid's Opera House last night by the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society" as "the most brilliant and successful social event that ever transpired in the city of Tucson."  The Arizona Daily Star reported:  "Tucson's society outdone itself in the name of sweet charity...Quite two hundred couples graced the floor..."

Four years later, twenty-two men organized the Jewish Cemetery Benevolent Association, each subscribing $3.50.  A Torah was obtained and kept in the home of Julius Wittelshoefer, thus enabling Joseph Goldtree to conduct the Bar Mitzvah of his son, the first such occasion in Tucson.

The eventual site of Temple Emanu-El's first building, in the 500 block of Stone Avenue, was purchased by Eva Mansfield from Ignatz Fried for $1.

In February of 1904, several lectures were given by Rabbi Martin Zielonka, a circuit rabbi from El Paso.  Following those lectures, a meeting was called which resulted in pledges sufficient to begin preliminary plans for the formation of a synagogue.  (Arizona Daily Star, February 19 and 20, 1904)

In 1904, it was believed that the new synagogue would be built within twelve months.  Realistically, the process took six more years, when the Jewish population was estimated at approximately 150.  Many people throughout the territory, some as far away as Globe, Bisbee, and Nogales, Jews and non-Jews alike, made pledges that resulted in the fulfillment of the dream of a Jewish place of worship for Tucson.  Activities were initiated to unify the population and further the financial goal of building a synagogue.  Local Jewish and non-Jewish men and business owners were contacted for pledges.  Clara Ferrin Bloom wrote letters to Jews and non-Jews across the territory for financial assistance.  The Ladies Aid Society spearheaded the movement by giving luncheons, holding bridge parties, sponsoring teas, organizing bazaars and entertaining the community with another Purim Ball.  They baked, sewed, crafted and sold goods at Thanksgiving and Christmas events.

Sally Duchin

The Temple 1910

On Rosh Hashanah Eve, October 3, 1910, the unpaved major Tucson thoroughfare, Stone Avenue, became home to the first Jewish place of worship in the Arizona Territory:  Temple Emanuel.  Were it not for the water wagons with their sprinkling equipment, the red brick building might have been obscured by the huge dust clouds that made vehicle travel on the street treacherous.  Paving occurred in 1911.

Years of dreaming, planning, fundraising and negotiation brought this building to completion in a year when William Howard Taft was President of the United States,  Halley's comet was photographed for the first time, a gallon of milk cost 32 cents and the first patent for an electric wash machine was granted.  Women began to wear skirts just above the ankle to facilitate entering and exiting motor vehicles;  men traditionally wore black business suits, white dress shirts and tall black hats.

In a 2003 article for Heritage Matters, R. Brooks Jeffery of the University of Arizona described the original building, designed by Tucson architect Ely Blount, as "a reflection of Jewish architecture nationwide"  that "incorporates an eclectic blend of stylistic elements, including the symmetrical facade and triangular pediments of the Neoclassical, the squat towers and arched openings of the Romanesque and the pointed domes common in Moorish architecture."

In order to plan for the new temple, an organizational meeting was held on  March 10, 1910 at the home of Mrs. Joseph Ferrin, resulting in the incorporation of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and election of its Board of Directors.   While the Arizona Daily Star reported that the expected cost of the building would be $7000, the low bid was actually $4712.  The newspaper also indicated that while "Emanu-El Temple Association" had been used for raising funds and making building preparations, the deed did not reflect that name and until the change was made legally, work had been delayed.

When construction progressed to the point of laying the cornerstone, an impressive ceremony was held on June 20, 1910, conducted by members of the Masonic Grand Lodge.  There were prayers, Masonic services, vocal selections accompanied by an organ and the actual ritual of laying the stone.  

As the date for the dedication of the temple on Rosh Hashanah Eve approached, the Board became aware of a problem with installation of the furniture and carpeting:  neither would be ready in time.  Undaunted, the Board arranged for temporary seating and the planning and excitement moved on.  Invitations to attend the dedication and service were extended via the local press to the entire community, along with a promise that the service would be mostly in English with very little Hebrew.

Rabbi E.M. Chapman of Albuquerque, N.M. was hired to conduct the services and preside at the dedication.   After conducting High Holy Day services, the rabbi was offered a one-year contract with a salary of $1000, which he accepted.

The building on Stone Avenue fulfilled many dreams and many needs.  It became the Stone Avenue Temple, lost its red brick facade to white plaster, and is presently the home of the Jewish Heritage Museum.  Imagine the tales it could tell...

Audrey Brooks, Story
Sally Duchin and Audrey Brooks, Research


By 1914, Arizona had completed the evolution from untamed Regional Territory to official 48th state. The population of Tucson had more than doubled in four years... the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad was extended west to Tucson, soon to be sold and integrated into the Southern Pacific system...and the Kress Company (aka the "Five and Dime") commissioned the earliest watercolor rendering of the Temple on Stone Avenue, to be sold as a postcard in its stores.

With its synagogue in place and in response to increasing local needs, the national growth and progression of Judaism, and events around the world, the Jewish community of Tucson was in need of the next phase of planning and organization; the women would provide the impetus for both.

This was not just a Tucson phenomenon.  Especially in the Reform Jewish movement, Judaism in the United States was experiencing an elementary feminization. Responsibility for home, the synagogue and its religious school, and social services for the community came to be seen as the domain of women.  The Jewish women of Tucson, pioneers in every sense of the word, were probably out in front of this movement.

Just as they had insisted it was time for a synagogue in Tucson and nurtured the creation of Stone Avenue Temple, by 1914, the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society was making plans to ensure that the temple had adequate funding and the best possible spiritual leadership.  The Society was also continuing with its mission to provide help to the needy, accomplish charitable acts, and perpetuate religious instruction for the community's children.

After the Temple Board requested the resignation of Rabbi E. M. Chapman, Rabbi Emil Ellinger of San Diego was engaged in September 1914, at a salary of $1,500. At the time, the Arizona Daily Star referred to Dr. Ellinger as, "a man of education and culture."

In 1917, the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society, still referring to themselves unofficially as "Sisterhood," voted to change their formal name to the Women's Auxiliary of the International Order of B'nai B'rith.  Mrs. L. Rosenstern was named President, and dues were set at twenty-five cents a month.  Members continued to visit and financially care for the sick, work for the Orphanage and participate in the work of community charities, all while pursuing fundraising projects for Temple.

After America's entry into World War I, the women contacted Red Cross headquarters about securing work assignments for the war effort.  Tuesdays and Fridays were selected as the days for Red Cross work. Two second-hand sewing machines were purchased so projects could begin for the organization's French and Belgian war relief program.  Salvage work for the Red Cross was also begun.  After the war, sewing continued for "the poor school children" in Tucson.  A fund was started for the purpose of maintaining a rabbi. Each member was asked to solicit funds from one or more male acquaintances.  In 1921, the sisterhood affiliated with the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods.

In 1924, after several years without a rabbi in Tucson, the women requested guidance from Hebrew Union College regarding selection of a rabbi.  The reply was shared with B'nai B'rith. By July, Rabbi Benjamin Cohen, formerly serving congregations in El Paso and Bellingham, WA, was hired, with the intent of providing some unity to the increasingly diverse and independent Tucson Jewish community.

Norma Cohen and Sally Duchin
Centennial Committee


Imagine attending a crucial meeting at Temple Emanu-El. A Sisterhood member offers to drive children without transportation to Sunday School. Another suggests needy families send their children for free. A Board member recommends reducing dues by 25%. Later, Rabbi is approached about a salary decrease. As contemporary as this sounds, Stone Avenue Temple was the venue for this meeting; the Board member who spoke was called "Brother" by the all male Board; and Rabbi Moise Bergman, Temple's Rabbi in 1930, was about to see his salary reduced.    

The Great Depression of the 1930's was a challenge for Temple's leadership. Board members paid dues in advance, sold burial plots, and recruited potential members through home visits. Sisterhood, whose members were not yet working in professions other than teaching or nursing, expanded its commitment. While continuing to contribute to charity, expand the Sunday School's facilities (now offering Hebrew twice weekly), deliver sermons at Friday night services monthly, connect with students from the Maimondean Society (a possible precursor of Hillel), and finance the choir, Sisterhood now began subsidizing Temple's maintenance. At a time when Rabbi earned $3000, a piano tuner $3.50, and a folding chair cost $.40, Sisterhood's treasury had $500, and a successful fundraiser netted $250. A group of 35 to 45 women arranged golfing matches, readings, recitals, dances, bazaars, rummage sales, bridge parties, luncheons, picnics, Seders, Succoth decorations, and movie nights; and sold uniongrams. 

Tucson, still a "cowtown," saw its population grow by only 10% during the Depression. Yet Temple prospered from the accessibility of the railroad, the airport and the University, all of which brought culture and learned visitors. Temple reached out to Jews in Nogales, Benson and Douglas; and in 1929, 200 guests welcomed incoming Rabbi Freed. Temple's Sisterhood networked by launching a Sisterhood in Phoenix; and joined the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods and the established Texas Federation. When Temple congregants of diverse European descent debated differences between Reform and Orthodox practices, Temple's Board worked for six years to unite the factions. This union was not meant to be, and in 1936 Temple gifted their nearby Community Center at 520 South Stone to Congregation Anshei Israel.

The struggles of the Depression were obvious in the Board and Sisterhood minutes; not so apparent was Hitler's rise to power. Not until 1934, did Rabbi Bergman speak to Sisterhood on "international Jewish news, in particular, mention of Nazism and its effect upon Jews in Germany, Austria and elsewhere." The recording secretary, a copious notetaker, wrote that Rabbi's address was "enjoyed and appreciated." Strange as it seems to connect enjoyment with Nazism, perhaps her words were prompted by our country's strong anti-immigration policies, and phrased by a first generation Jew assimilating in a Christian world.

Rabbi lectured monthly to Sisterhood, and Sisterhood members presented papers weekly. Topics from 1931 to 1938 included: "Darwinian Theory", "Why Zionism?", "A Jewish Woman: Expert and Idealist", "Adjusting the Jewish Child to His World", "The World Today: How do We Jews Meet It?", "Madam Curie", and a guest reverend's lecture on the religious culture of Hawaii. Missing are more current events on Nazism. Even the First Methodist Church held a peace meeting in 1935 for all religions, reserving 75 seats for Jewish groups. Rabbis began lecturing on anti-semitism after Kristallnacht in 1938; Temple's Rabbi Iola spoke on "Some Aspects of Former German-Jewish Relations," a Friday night sermon topic published in the Arizona Star. Perhaps this was too little, too late.

written by Laurie Taetle
research by Sally Duchin


Rabbi Herman Iola continued in his role as Temple Emanu-El's Rabbi through 1941, when he unfortunately passed away.  His successor was Rabbi Joseph Gumbiner. 

In response to the growing size of the congregation, Rabbi Gumbiner ensured the creation of a Temple Men's Club, whose first meeting drew 43 men who became the original members; recognized the need to expand Temple's burial capacity by acquiring a third burial area, Block 33;  acknowledged that the Temple's growth required the writing of a new Constitution and new By-Laws and accomplished that task; and recognized the need to begin discussion of either enlarging the building on South Stone or building a new Temple Emanu-El. 

Additionally,  a building fund was created.  Rabbi Gumbiner surely understood the need; by 1944, Temple Membership had reached 101 families!  Leadership in the congregation had concluded that a new building was the most logical choice for the future and was actively studying building plans for a $60,000 to $80,000 new structure at a new location.  Despite an active campaign for this proposed new Temple, however, making concrete decisions on the preliminary architectural plans was postponed in 1946, likely influenced by Rabbi Gumbiner's decision to retire the following year.  Temple Emanu-El's children coped by utilizing the tiny vestibules as classrooms, and an organ was installed early in 1947, adding an eagerly awaited formal musical component to services. 

Rabbi Albert T. Bilgray shared the pulpit with Rabbi Gumbiner on May 19, 1947, just ten days after Rabbi Gumbiner had officially submitted his resignation, and Rabbi Bilgray was elected the new Rabbi.  Discussions on the future location for Temple Emanu-El then happily began anew in 1948.

Rabbi Bilgray's arrival as Temple's new spiritual leader, accompanied by his wife and two children, energized the entire congregation.  Drawing upon his pulpit experience in Providence, R.I. and McKeesport, PA, he immediately demonstrated his tremendous drive and untiring energy toward solving the problems besetting the Temple family, primarily the lack of adequate space.  Congregational activities flourished as membership increased, keeping pace with the rapidly growing population of Tucson overall.  Rabbi Bilgray was highly respected for his deep love of humanity and commitment to scholarship, and these two qualities lifted him into the forefront of communal and cultural activity not only in Tucson itself but throughout the entire state of Arizona.   

The Sisterhood of Temple Emanu-El also remained quite active.  Mrs. Ethel Solot became the President in 1940; their first regular meeting of that year, chaired by Mrs. Marjorie Levy, focused on the plight of Jewry worldwide, as a radio broadcast of important current events during the last six months of 1939 was presented.  Rabbi Iola narrated, and the events were dramatized by Mmes. R. Jenefsky, H. Novick and H.  Bacal.  Social events continued to be planned as January progressed, including a card party at the home of Mrs. Gloria Abelson and a luncheon honoring Mrs. Arthur Barnett, the national Chair of religious extension service for the National Sisterhood. 

During these war years, we can presume that every Temple member also gave thanks and prayed for continued safety of all the military men and women who were members of our congregation as well as praying for the safety or our country during that turbulent time.

Written by Carolyn W. Sanger
Research by Sally Duchin

Post World War II in Pima County: 1947 - 1948

We know about the dark side of WWII. What about the bright side of this war's impact? How did it affect population growth in Pima County and Tucson? Did the Jewish Community Grow? What was its impact on Temple Emanu-El?

The Pima Association of Governments has (unofficially) estimated Pima County's population to have grown from 78,000 to 135,000 from the beginning of 1942 to the end of 1948, a 73% increase. For the city of Tucson, the estimate was from 36,400 to 44,500, an increase of 22%. In Tucson: The Building of a Jewish Community, Dr. Benjamin N. Brook at the University of Arizona provided a much larger estimate for Pima County of 232,355 by 1949. From 2% to 3% of the county's population was estimated to be Jewish and to have come along with the build-up for the war at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Fort Huachuca.

Whatever the actual population figures were, the impression one had of the Tucson/Pima County area was that of its substantial growth and expansion. Along with the population growth were many opportunities for land development, home building, retail business, as well as in the professions of medicine, law, and education.

In May 1947, the Arizona Jewish Post reported that a Rabbi Albert T. Bilgray was to be the guest speaker at Temple. At a special meeting on May 19, 1947, Rabbi Bilgray was chosen to be the spiritual leader of Temple Emanu-El effective September 1. Born in 1910, he was reared in Chicago, graduated from the University of Chicago, and did his graduate work there and at Ohio State University. He graduated from Hebrew Union College in 1935 and served three pulpits before coming to Tucson.

Because Temple was no longer adequate for the size of the congregation, High Holy Day Services were held at the Temple of  Music and Art for the second year, this time with Rabbi Bilgray officiating. Building plans had been discussed and a Building Fund Committee was established under chairman Max Segal, who reported that the congregation's membership was now approaching 200 families, up from 101 families in 1944. The fund-raising drive was to begin January 1948.

In December 1947, under the leadership of Charles J. Miller, the newly elected president of the congregation, the property at East 9th Street and N. Country Club Road was purchased for its central location given the movement of Jews to the east and north sides of Tucson, and because the property could support a sizeable structure. In mid-January, Mr. Miller reported the drive would end by March 1 because of its success.

At the Annual Meeting and Election in April 1948, the Building Committee presented two  exterior sketches for the new building, which were designed by Bernard Friedman of the architectural firm of Friedman and Green. The total cost of the new structure was to be $250,000. Building was to proceed as soon as possible.

The ground dedication ceremony for the new Temple was held on Sunday, October 10, 1948 and construction of the Temple auditorium began in December. The Murray Shiff Construction Company was awarded the contract to build the first wing, the auditorium, for $110,000.

With the influx of Jews the religious school had grown to 150 students and the Temple Youth Organization was reactivated. The Temple Young Marrieds and the Temple Unmarried Club were organized, and courses in Adult Education were instituted.

Story by Ann Eisenberg
Research by Sally Duchin and Ann Eisenberg

1949 - 1958

In 1949 Temple Emanu-El moved into its 39th year and into its new building.

September 16, 1949 closing services were held at Stone Avenue Temple.  A procession carried the Torahs to the new synagogue building on Country Club Road.

September 23, 1949 congregation president Joe Myerson was presented with the keys to the new building by the builder, Murray Schiff.  The building contained a large 650 seat auditorium and stage, now known as the Sy Juster Auditorium.  Future plans included a sanctuary, a school, a chapel, and administrative offices.

The first services to be held in the new Temple Emanu-El multipurpose auditorium were on Erev Rosh Hashanah.  The service was conducted by Rabbi Bilgray.  During this service the Ner Tamid was kindled.  The first b'nai mitzvah in the new Temple building was the bat mitzvah of Mary Ellen Lieberman on the first evening of Succot, October 7th.

A dinner dance celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Temple Emanu-El was held Friday evening, November 3, 1950.  The dinner dance sparked unexpected excitement.  The November 10th issue of Temple Emanu-El News noted, "In a spontaneous outburst of enthusiasm which caught even Temple leaders by surprise, our new Religious School effort was given a brilliant start ... with the electrifying news the Myersons would supplement their original contributions to the Temple building with an additional $5,000 gift toward a classroom in the new Religious School Building.  The Sisterhood has pledged to contribute $5,000 through its own fundraising efforts."

In October of 1950 the Sisterhood opened a new Thrift Shop, described in the October 13, 1950 Temple Emanu-El News as "taking off like a six-motored Stratoliner."  (The Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner was the first commercial transport aircraft with a pressurized cabin.)  Profits went toward maintenance of the Religious School.

"Board Action Paves Way for Ground Breaking Ceremonies" sang the headline in the February 23, 1951 Temple Emanu-El News.  After years of fundraising for a Religious School building, the Board of Directors approved beginning construction for a proposed ten-classroom building.  The school had a 225-student enrollment in 1951 and a projected annual increase of 25 percent.

In May of 1951 the final plans for the Religious School were approved.  The proposed eleven-room school building would be the largest Jewish school in the Southwest at the time.  The total cost of the building, including furnishings, was projected at $60,000.  Fundraising included such creative offers as a nameplate inscribed with a family name or message on a study desk with every cash payment of $250.

In December of 1955, Temple awarded a contract to the Murray J. Schiff Construction Company for a new Temple annex.  This addition would include a chapel with a pulpit, ark, choir area, and organ.  The wing would also have administrative offices and a library.  The building was to have "innovative sealing features for floors and ceilings" to make "the unit almost dustproof."  The proposed cost for the complex was $150,000.

The dedication of the Convocation Building, housing the Schlanger Chapel, meeting room, library, offices, and rabbi's study took place on March 22, 1959.

Story by Louise Greenfield
Research by Sally Duchin and Louise Greenfield


As the decade of the 1950's was drawing to a close, David Mitchell was appointed the first full-time Temple administrator.  The Golden Anniversary of the establishment of Temple Emanu-El was celebrated in 1960.  Attending the event were both Arizona Governor Paul Fannin and Governor Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut.  Tucson Mayor Don Hummel and University of Arizona President Richard Harvill also attended.  A service of rededication of the temple was held in April of that year.  In October, the original multipurpose hall became the auditorium and was dedicated in memory of Sy Juster.

Temple Emanu-El held a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Sanctuary and Religious School additions on 5/14/1961.  The Solot Biblical Garden was later established, and the Davis Library was dedicated.

In 1962, the  Sanctuary building with its mosaic windows was completed and dedicated by Gov. Fannin on February 24.    The school building was dedicated in May, with excitement that "film strips, visual aids and tape recorders will supplement older methods of teaching."  At that time, 500 students attended.

February 24, 1963, marked the community dedication of the completed building, including the auditorium, religious school, convocation building and sanctuary.  Overall, the construction of the entire complex had taken 13 years to complete.  During this year, 24 students were the first to be confirmed in the new sanctuary; Samuel Kurn became the Temple education director; and tenor Max Klein assumed his duties as Cantor and Choir director.

In 1964, William Gordon, temple member and former president of the Tucson Jewish Community Council, was appointed to serve on President Lyndon Johnson's National Citizen Committee for Community Relations.

In 1966 the Nogales, AZ branch of Temple Emanu-El Religious School opened with 25 students.  The Carol Gordon Fist Gallery of Judaica was established by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Gordon to include treasured art and religious objects. Several years later, a collection of Chagall etchings was exhibited.

The 20th anniversary of Rabbi Albert Bilgray's spiritual leadership of Temple Emanu-El was celebrated in February 1968.  Rabbi Bilgray was responsible for building the entire complex at the Country Club location. 

Stanley L. Robin became the first associate rabbi in 1969 and director of the religious school.  March 20, 1970 was the 60th birthday of the temple's founding as the first congregation in the Territory of Arizona.

On July 28, 1971, Jack Sarver, temple member and member of the Tucson Jewish Community Council, sent a letter to the Tucson Country Club, the area's oldest and most prestigious country club, alleging discrimination in member policies.  He then sent an open letter to the Arizona Star, addressed to the citizens of Tucson, demanding an end to public events at the club.  After a series of meetings between the council and the club, Sarver received a letter stating TCC would no longer discriminate in the screening of new applicants. 

In September 1972, Rabbi Joseph Weizenbaum assumed temple leadership.  Rabbi Wiezenbaum had earlier led a 1971 delegation of POW/MIA families to Paris and to Laos where they met with the North Vietnamese.The congregation celebrated Rabbi Bilgray's 25 years of service in  November. When he retired from Temple Emanu-El, the rabbi was recognized as a leader in interfaith relations.  At his retirement, he was elected Rabbi Emeritus, and the congregation had grown to 600 families.

Pat Becker
Century Celebration Committee


In the early 1970's, Tucson was emerging from its laid back, small town, desert image. As more people moved West, Tucson was growing into a metropolitan community. With this growth, more synagogues were started. The membership of Temple Emanu-El doubled, and members could now attend services at their newly completed building on Country Club Drive.

Tucsonans were paying more attention to events occurring both nationally and internationally. From 1970 through the early 1980's, the nation was undergoing very difficult times.  It was a period of, "debate and division, disillusionment and defeat, disgrace and dependency, depression and despair," according to Rabbi Emeritus Albert T. Bilgray, as written in the Temple Emanu-El News on the tenth anniversary of Rabbi Joseph S. Weizenbaum's leadership.

Rabbi Bilgray retired in 1972, after twenty-five years at Temple. In that same year, Rabbi Weizenbaum assumed leadership of the congregation. The first full-time Cantor, Charles Julian, was hired in 1973. Janece Erman was appointed Cantorial Soloist in 1978.

Services were modernized when The Gates of Prayer was first used during Hanukkah, 1975. Friday evening Shabbat services were added for the first time, and the Saturday morning service was expanded. More music enhanced the services.

Under Rabbi Weizenbaum's leadership, several innovative programs involving Temple, the community, and the international scene began. Some of these included adopting Soviet Refusniks, Project Reap to aid Ethiopian Jews, the Covenant of Sanctuary, pledging to give aid and welfare to Central  American Refugees, and Operation Deep Freeze.  In 1988, the Temple Social Action Committee was set up, "to contribute to the well-being of the people of our community."

New lifelong learning opportunities now included preschool, community high school and adult education classes. The Temple Board set up the Albert T. Bilgray Distinguished Lecture Series in 1985. The following year, Dr. Jacob R. Marcus, noted historian and Director of the American Jewish Archives, presented the first lecture of this esteemed series.  In 1993, The Rabbi Albert T. Bilgray Lectureship was created to continue rabbinic and scholarly Jewish presentations.           

In the 1970's and 1980's, several historical events occurred. Temple Emanu-El held the first adult B'nai Mitzvah in the Southwestern United States in 1973. The State of Arizona dedicated the Stone Avenue Temple--our original home and now the Jewish History Museum--as a historical landmark in 1982.

Throughout this time period, additions were made to Temple Emanu-El's building. The outdoor Millstone Hanukkah Menorah was erected in 1973. The chapel Ark Doors and the Torah Mantle, designed by artist Carol Kessler, were donated by the Leeds Family in 1984.  That same year, new stained glass windows were added to the Chapel. Also in this time period, several notable people appeared at Temple. In 1976, Theodore Bikel performed at a fundraiser. When Temple Emanu-El hosted the first Inter-American Symposium on Sanctuary in 1985, Elie Wiesel was the keynote speaker.

In 1994, the leadership passed from Rabbi Weizenbaum to Assistant Rabbi Thomas Loucheim on an interim basis. For the next five years, there were several other Rabbis, and Temple appeared to be on the verge of closing. A core group of members decided they did not want this to happen. Major funds were pledged, a new Board of Directors was formed, and Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon was hired. A new era in Temple's history was beginning.

Sue Keller
Century Celebration Committee


How many of us baby-boomers imagined we would live to witness the end of the 20th century! For all the wonderful achievements that century witnessed, Rabbi Sam Cohon also emphasized that "it was a century which saw butchers of unparalleled brutality controlling—and often ending—the lives of a majority of the world's population."

Temple Emanu-El continued to thrive as we entered January 2000.  The groundbreaking for the construction of a preschool had taken place in December 1999, and the first permit for the preschool's construction was issued shortly after the arrival of the 21st century.  Membership continued to increase dramatically...adding an average of two new families every single week of the entire year.

It is amazing to contemplate that in February 2000 Temple had grown 35% since just the previous June.  Carole Levi was the remarkable Membership Chair who, coupled with the electricity which Rabbi Cohon's presence in Tucson had generated, achieved that result.  A Family Shabbat was added to the variety of services Temple offered:  Temple provided the Friday night chicken entrée but families brought and shared their own "kosher-style" sides. 

We all shared in the joy which ensued as Marjorie Hochberg assumed the position of Cantorial Soloist. 

What existed at the beginning of this decade and still continues to operate?  In addition to Family Shabbat, there is: 

Operation Deep Freeze, providing a hot evening meal, a warm shelter overnight, breakfast and a sack lunch for homeless men on cold winter nights. The Adult Education Academy, provides a wide range of educational opportunities to  hundreds of Temple members and others who value increased Jewish knowledge.  Monthly Shabbat hikes, started at this time bringing the beauty of Shabbat to a variety of beautiful natural locations. The Caring Committee, just as important to families in need as it is today, was already bringing comfort and concern to members and their families dealing with illness, death and mourning.

March of 2000 initiated the celebration of Temple's 90th anniversary.  A Heritage Shabbat was held March 11th at the Stone Avenue Temple, and on the 17th, Joan and Donald Diamond were honored for the unqualified support they provided, without which, it was written, "we wouldn't have a Temple today." 

As is being done this Century Year, a scribe, Rabbi Shmuel Miller, was also commissioned to write a new enable all Temple members who chose to participate in the 613th mitzvah of "writing a Torah."  One hundred sixty-four individuals participated in writing the Torah Hadasha (New Torah) by the end of the year.

In June, 2000, Rabbi Cohon reminded the congregation that he'd been in his position for one year...and if you hadn't met him yet, "then it had been way too long since you came to services!"  In that year, membership had increased from 360 to 525 member families, an increase of 45%.  The Preschool for 80 kids was under construction, and 22 were enrolled for the fall; the Adult Education Academy had grown to 200 participants that year alone.  Outgoing President Cary Marmis was credited for having accomplished such growth, and incoming President Peter Eisner had big shoes to fill.

It was during this year of 2000 that Rabbi Baruch Cohon began assisting at both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to accommodate our growing congregation.  Rabbi David Freelund arrived as Assistant Rabbi to the open arms of members, and he was installed that August.   The Temple Preschool was dedicated on October 20th.  Videotapes of Services for the Homebound, as well,  became a reality through the generosity of a dedicated member. 

Story by Carolyn W. Sanger
Research by Sally Duchin & Carolyn W. Sanger

Art Treasures of Temple Emanu-El

Many of us travel the world in search of art treasures to admire, photograph and remember.  Our journey could easily begin at Temple Emanu-El.  Take a tour as we explore our own treasure-trove of synagogue art.  Hundreds of hours of creative and loving work by talented artists have produced art that inspires, soothes, and enhances the worship experience.

Walk with us...

An exceptional area of beauty can be found by approaching the east entrance on Country Club Drive.  Flanking an intricately designed door are two huge white marble walls, one bearing an inscription of the Sh'ma and the other "Ye shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am Holy."  Continuing through the threshold, we are in Founders' Hall, an area dedicated to remembering the temple founders and leaders, and those who have made unique contributions.

The Fist Gallery of Judaica, established in 1968 to showcase treasured Jewish art and religious objects, is located in Founders' Hall.  A uniquely structured, brilliantly colored ornamental glass window adorns the east wall of the gallery.  Based on a painting by Carol Gordon Fist, for whom the gallery is named, the piece is made of two-inch chunks of hand-hewn colored glass embedded in gray cement. 

Entering from the north parking lot, above the doorway we are greeted by a magnificent mosaic work depicting the biblical story of the burning bush.

As we enter the main sanctuary, we are reminded of Exodus 25:8, "Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them..."  Looking up, we see a 34-foot vaulted ceiling with intermingled six-sided inscribed designs;  the sanctuary itself is hexagonal,  a startling though familiar design.  The eastern wall of black Israeli marble houses a white marble ark with doors of Arizona mesquite wood adorned with a stylized Tree of Life containing the four Hebrew letters of God's name.

Across the entire east wall, above the ark, a series of seven stained glass windows depict the seven-branched shabbat menorah.  Each panel contains one shabbat candle and one Hebrew letter which, when read from right to left, spell "Shabbat Shalom."  Interspersed between the glass panels are six mosaic panels symbolizing  the High Holy Days, Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim, Pesach and Shavuot.  A series of crossing lines, from windows to mosaics and back binds the entire work in an ever-moving cohesion and in appreciation of the bond between the significance of shabbat observance and the festivals.  Suspended above the ark is a six-sided, red art glass Ner Tamid representing the Ten Commandments.  Along the north and south sanctuary walls we see twelve, soft-colored stained glass Peace Windows which provide diffused lighting for the arched seating of the pews.

Housed in the Sy Juster Auditorium--dedicated in memory of Ms. Syril Juster--is an extraordinary stained glass collection:  The Illuminated Bible Gallery.  Consisting of ten panels designed and crafted by congregant Larry Rogovein, five panels depict each book of the Torah, and some additional books of the Tanakh.  These boldly colored, artistic interpretations provide a unique view of our rich Jewish heritage.

Finally, the Schlanger Chapel, which was the multi-purpose worship center before the main sanctuary was completed, contains a symbolic stained glass window, featuring hands held in prayer over Shabbat candles.

In his 1950 message for Temple Emanu-El's Fortieth Anniversary, Rabbi Albert Bilgray described the building as "...our tribute to the past, our answer to the present, and our proud challenge to the future."  Sixty years later, his words remain meaningful.

Sally Duchin and Audrey Brooks
Story and Research

The Centennial—A Look to the Future

In celebration of Temple Emanu-El's Centennial, this thirteen-month series of articles has taken us from pioneer days one hundred years ago, through planning and building two houses of worship, up to the activities resulting in the thriving community we have today.  Shakespeare wrote "what is past is prologue."  Based on our past, we can look forward to prologue and then some.

Predictions of the future are tricky.  Do we rely on dreams  found in the Bible, such as those of Jacob or Joseph?  More realistically, how about a conversation with Rabbi Sam Cohon?

If we look back at our 1910  Articles of Incorporation, we find that the Temple Emanu-El community today is  living the future contemplated in that document:  we aid and assist the needy;  we do acts of charity and benevolence; we worship in accordance with the Jewish faith; we provide instruction in the Jewish religion; we provide a place for meeting and worship and we provide a burial ground for our members. 

Rabbi Cohon would expand on that list with programs that have enriched the original purposes, "by demand!"  We now provide educational programs for those from "six months to ninety-five plus," supplying and supplementing what used to be taught in the home. By offering the experience of celebrating all Jewish festivals with others at Temple, we provide the reality that Judaism is not only important, but good.

In addition, we reach out to interfaith members of the community and those who are interested in Judaism.  "This is an every day mission:  to stress the importance of Jews in southern Arizona and what it means to be a Jew.  We have the largest 'Taste of Judaism' program of any city in the country and we have had it for ten years!"

According to Rabbi Cohon, the next ten years will see a major transition in leadership of synagogues and Jewish institutions, resulting in leaders who are attracted to serving, rather than seeing service as an inherent responsibility of a small group--this will be a generational change.  "Those making it a priority to connect Jews to religious education and practice, music, art, dance and writing will flourish and survive;  members need to be challenged creatively."

What might the synagogue-of-the-future offer?  A daily minyan.  A mikvah. Better use of technology. Visual projection of siddur page numbers, words to songs and the kaddish list during services.  Better and more diverse music. More interfaith work.  More partnerships with community organizations.  More travel to "Jewish Spain" or "Jewish Italy,"  for example.  "One size is never going to fit all in the Reform movement."

What are the challenges for the future?  Resources,  commitment to Temple, and  long-term planning. "We need to get rid of small town thinking in what has become a large metropolitan community." 

Asked for his three wishes for the future, Congregation President Dr. Jason Feld said:

"At the top of my wish list is to ensure that Temple Emanu-El remains a warm energetic, and creative community in which each person can find meaning and beauty in Judaism...My second wish is that as a congregation we continually challenge ourselves to ask and seek answers to the most fundamental questions driving our decisions as a Temple community...Who are we as a Temple today?  Who do we want to be as we move into the future?...My third wish is that we expand our capability to grow and maintain an engaged and satisfied membership reflective of and responsive to the diverse needs and interests of each individual member..."

The possibilities would seem to be endless.  What would your three wishes for the future be?

Audrey Brooks
Story and research for the Centennial Celebration Committee

Wed, September 19 2018 10 Tishrei 5779