Local Jewish history is brought to life by "Shema Arizona," a Web site created by a collaboration of effort and information from the Arizona Jewish Historical Society and Arizona State University. The site features transcripts of oral histories, sound excerpts and photographs of Jewish settlers who helped create and shape modern Arizona.
"I think anybody reading any of the oral histories or listening to the sound excerpts will get a real feeling of what it was like to be Jewish in Arizona in the first half of the 20th century," says Beryl Morton, executive director of the AJHS.
Development of the site began in 1998, when ASU and AJHS joined forces and applied to Library Services and Technology Acts, a competitive grant that is available once a year through Arizona's state library, according to Nancy Dallet, project director for the Web site.
"(The grant committee) was stressing the notion of organizations joining together to do something that they couldn't on their own accomplish," says Dallet.
AJHS, which possessed oral histories of community founders, and ASU, which possessed technical savvy, received the federal funding and set out to create a Web site that would serve as a model for future partnerships, explains Dallet.
The site was completed in April 2000.
"Shema Arizona" (shema means "to hear" in Hebrew) contains 63 transcripts of oral histories, including the life stories and experiences of Rabbi Albert Plotkin, Elizabeth Ramenofsky, Sylvia Silverman, Marshall Lehman and Florence Frank.
Stories include information on families, birthplaces and why and how families relocated to Arizona.
Plotkin relocated to Arizona from Spokane, Wash., because he "fell in love with it" while attending a rabbinic convention in 1950, according to his transcript. "I came here and it was so gorgeous in January," he continued. "Why do I have to shovel all that snow up in Spokane?"
After relocating to Phoenix to become a rabbi at Temple Beth Israel, Plotkin remained an active community leader and fought to allow women in the rabbinate.
Ramenofsky was born in Globe in 1908. Her father, Max Lantin, relocated to Arizona around 1890 from New Haven, Conn., and worked as a merchant. Lantin ran a men's furnishing store during the building of the Roosevelt Dam, which supplied Levis, boots and jackets to workmen, according to the Web site. The family relocated to Los Angeles during the early 1920s, where Ramenofsky completed high school, attended Berkeley and married in 1936, according to her transcript. She relocated to Phoenix during the late 1940s.
Lehman, a founding chairman of the AJHS with deep family roots in the Southwest, recounts why the organization worked to collect oral histories.
"We are very proud of our history and the fact that Jews were here at the very beginning of recorded Anglo history," says Lehman. "They participated in the development of Arizona at every step and stage."
Lehman can trace his ancestry in the Southwest from 1890, when his family settled in El Paso, N.M. His parents, who arrived in the United States in the 1930s, were the only Jews residing in Duncan, Ariz.
Lehman, who always held an interest in history, particularly Arizona Jewish history, is proud of what the AJHS and ASU have been able to accomplish.
"Just like everybody else, we (Jews) have a right to be here and we have a right to be proud of the fact that we participated in the building of Arizona."
Community response to the Web site has been overwhelming, according to Morton.
"We've gotten some wonderful reactions from people. One young woman whose father had passed away found out that he was on the site," says Morton. "She wrote me an e-mail and said, 'Thank you for giving me my father back.' "
Visit the Web site at www.asu.edu/lib/archives/shema.