AJHS forms project for Arizona's centennial

AJHS is planning an exhibit on Arizona's Jewish pioneers in celebration of the state's centennial. Pictured here is the Solomon Family store, owned by Isadore Solomon in Solomonville, Arizona Territory, circa 1900.

The Arizona Jewish Historical Society has organized a yearlong Arizona Jewish Centennial Project, leading up to the centennial of Arizona's statehood on Feb. 14, 2012.

The project will allow AJHS to play a leadership role in the Jewish community's participation in the state's centennial celebration and provide a link between the Jewish community and other statewide centennial activities, said Lawrence Bell, AJHS executive director.

The project has been approved as a Legacy Project with the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission, according to Bell. Legacy Projects are projects generated by community members and sanctioned by the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission, according to the state's official centennial site, arizona100.org. They range from public art and restoration of historic properties to musical compositions.

"We're excited to have the opportunity to celebrate the Arizona centennial and to teach the public about some of the Jewish personalities who made a difference in our state," Bell said. "Jews have been present in Arizona ever since it's been a part of the United States and have played a key role in its development."

As part of its project, AJHS is developing an exhibition celebrating the state's Jewish pioneers that will focus on the political, social, cultural and economic dimensions of Jewish life during the territorial and early statehood era, from the 1860s to the 1920s, Bell said. The exhibition, to be designed and created by the local firm Ganymede Design Group and then displayed in the gallery of the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, will also highlight the contributions that Jewish individuals made to Arizona during that time.

A large portion of the research and writing for the exhibit has been done by Arizona State University graduate students, led by Emily Jacobson, the project coordinator who is researching and writing the exhibit text, in addition to selecting photographs and objects for the exhibit. Stephen Arougheti is a volunteer archivist intern for AJHS, and Megan Keough is assisting with research. Susan Shaffer Nahmias, who is the AJHS Museum Committee chair and an AJHS board member, has worked as a volunteer consultant.

"All of these people have done a tremendous amount of work to bring the exhibit forward," Bell said. The goal is to have it open to the public by February 2011, he said.

The yearlong commemoration, which will include the burial of a time capsule, with objects selected by local students, at the heritage center in February 2012, will include a series of public programs, organized and overseen by an AJHS Centennial Committee headed by Pamela Levin, former director of the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum at Congregation Beth Israel.

The series will kick off on Feb. 20, 2011, with a lecture by Arizona's official state historian, Marshall Trimble, on "Trimble's Arizona: From Anomalies and Tamales to Levi's, Goldwater's and Levy." Cost for the lecture is $5, free for students and AJHS members. Space is limited, call 602-241-7870 for reservations.

Other programs include a lecture by David Epstein, a western states historian, and an original script on Arizona's Jewish pioneers written and performed by the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company.

The project is funded in part by a $20,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation and a $5,000 grant from the Arizona Humanities Council. AJHS is seeking additional donors and volunteers.

"It should be a really fun yearlong series of events to celebrate the centennial and the Jewish personalities who made Arizona history so colorful," Bell said.

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