1991 Looking forward

The 1991 Jewish News article interviewed nearly a dozen people under the age of 50 about their hopes for what the Jewish community would look like in 50 years.

When Janet Arnold Rees, senior concierge and creative aging coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service, was cleaning her home office she stumbled upon a Jewish News article she had saved in a file full of theater memorabilia. 

Rees was the founder and producing director for the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company — which closed its doors in 2012 — and held on to many reviews and articles  in which she was featured. However, she had no memory of being featured in the Jewish News piece, “Looking forward.”

“Obviously it must have meant something to me, because I held on to it for all these years,” Rees said. 

The column first appeared in the September 20, 1991 issue of the Jewish News. In it, over a dozen leaders in the Jewish community — all of whom were under the age of 50 — shared what their dreams, hopes and desires were for the Valley’s Jewish community in the next 50 years. 

Rees’ dream was “to develop cooperative Jewish leadership emphasizing needs in Jewish education and social services, utilizing theater and the arts to promote and preserve pride in our cultural heritage.” 

“Do you want to know what’s funny?” Rees asked. “That’s still my dream. It hasn’t changed at all.”

Her dream may not have changed, but a lot has in 28 years. Organizations have come and gone, new leaders have emerged and a Jewish community center was built in Scottsdale. A little over halfway through those 50 years of change, the Jewish News reached out to several of those interviewed to ask if the community was closer to what they hoped for. 

Many of those interviewed for the “Looking forward” article have left Phoenix or were unavailable for comment. But some responded to interview requests. 

Moshe Apelas said in 1991 that he wished “for thriving Jewish community centers that will attract and involve unaffiliated Jews. I wish for closer ties between Valley Jews and Israel.”

Apelas, a native Israeli who was a software engineer at the time, is happy now to see new Jewish community centers. However, he is worried that JCCs are more focused on attracting the health and fitness demographics and hopes that there will be more events for all Jews to come together. 

“My theory is that Jews that belong to a synagogue have a connection to the Jewish community. However, most Jews are unaffiliated, so if they want a connection to Judaism, they would look to the JCC.”

Apelas is also happy that the Arizona Jewish Historical Society and Valley Beit Midrash were providing multiple events for the Jewish community. 

Rabbi Maynard Bell, who at the time was the Rabbi at Temple Solel, said in 1991, “My dream is for the Jewish community of Greater Phoenix to really coalesce into a community with deeper roots, greater affiliation and a greater sharing of resources.”

It has been 17 years since Bell retired from the pulpit and around eight years since he considered himself a part of the Jewish community. 

“From a distance, I observe that many institutions in our community have matured and become more rooted and turf issues have lessened,” Bell said now. 

Rees agreed, and said that it was great to see more organizations work together. 

Although there has been a lot of change in the past 28 years, Rees is excited to see how the future will unfold.

“What excites me the most about the future is seeing so many Jewish young people who want to serve this community,” Rees said. “To see this young leadership who care about being Jewish and who care about making a difference in this community, to me that’s the most exciting thing to see. Because us old guys are always around, but to see the youth take charge is what’s going to make the difference.” JN

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